Past Seminar

Finding a Workable Balance Between Surface and Sub-Surface Owners

Mar 16, 2004

About the Event

Split Estates: Finding a Workable Balance Between Surface and Sub-Surface Owners
An RFF Issues Briefing
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

In much of the western United States, private land is subject to legal arrangements known as “split estates,” in which landowners control what is on the surface, while others, such as energy and mining companies, own or lease the rights to underground oil, gas, and minerals.

Fairly balancing the rights of farmers and ranchers—and the industries hoping to extract buried resources—is a growing source of conflict in rapidly developing areas of the American West, especially as the search intensifies for subsurface deposits of natural resources.

The federal government owns most of these resources. About 58 million acres of privately owned land in the United States are estimated to overlie federal minerals, with most of this acreage in the West.

At an RFF Issues Briefing March 16 experts and stakeholders offered contrasting views on several aspects of the split estate controversy. Among the topics addressed: Can the rights of the surface owners be protected during exploration? Who decides how much these rights are worth? And if surface owners are fairly compensated, can the resource be extracted competitively? What is in the nation’s best interest as this issue emerges as part of the debate over U.S. dependency on foreign energy supplies?

Dru Bower, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, noted that the most useful strategy is to have both landowners and operating companies build working relationships early in the process. When agreements and expectations are outlined in detail at the start of a negotiation, she said, both parties are more likely to walk away satisfied. “Responsible energy companies, which own the rights to subsurface resources, have no interest in harming landowners in any way,” she said.

Shaun Andrikopoulos, a cattle rancher near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, responded that past experiences of landowners had not resulted in trusting relationships with oil and gas drillers. “In too many instances, landowners’ interests are overrun with take-it-or-leave-it offers that leave the land scarred and devalued,” he said. “At a time when land is becoming more valuable for its surface amenities—its views, its hunting and fishing and recreational potential, and its solitude—the gold-rush environment in the West is inevitably causing landowners to say, ‘Enough is enough’.”

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Introduction: Paul Portney | Video 
President and Senior Fellow
Resources for the Future
Web Bio


Link to video of Paul Portney

Panelist I: Dru Bower | Video
Vice President
Petroleum Association of Wyoming
Ms. Bower has extensive experience in the oil, gas, and minerals sector and served as the assistant chief of staff for former Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-WY).

Link to video of Dru Bower

Panelist II: Shaun Andrikopoulos | Video
Rimfire Ranch
Mr. Andrikopoulos is an investor and rancher with experience at Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, Apple Computer, and Hewlett Packard.

Link to video of Shaun Andrikopoulos

Panel Discussion and
Question & Answer Session | Video

Link to video of Q