Thousands of homeowners in the U.S. are finding out the hard way that so-called "mineral rights" for fossil fuel deposits that may exist beneath their newly purchased property have already secretly been sold to gas and drilling companies, effectively nullifying their ability to object to fracking or other extraction projects that could have serious health impacts on them or their families.
Acording to a new Reuters special report published Wednesday:
In golf clubs, gated communities and other housing developments across the United States, tens of thousands of families...have in recent years moved into new homes where their developers or home-builders, with little or no prior disclosure, kept all the underlying mineral rights for themselves, a Reuters review of county property records in 25 states shows. In dozens of cases, the buyers were in the dark.
According to the report—which cites the current nationwide oil and gas fracking boom—home builders and developers have found it increasingly lucrative to separate and withhold mineral rights from land deals, often without full disclosure, and instead sell those rights to fossil fuel companies.
"Home-builders and developers have been increasingly - and quietly - hanging on to the mineral rights underneath their projects, pushing aside homeowners' interests to set themselves up for financial gain when energy companies come calling," Reuters writes.
Several states such as Texas and Oklahoma have for a long time allowed the severing of mineral rights from land rights. However, the practice is growing across the country—particularly since "once-inaccessible stores of oil and gas," which have remained trapped beneath "bustling urban neighborhoods and tree-shaded suburbs in places like Denver and Los Angeles," have now been made accessible by fracking technology.
"Homeowners in these 'virgin locations' are often untutored in the nuances of property rights," Reuters writes, "and unaware they may be sitting atop oil and gas deposits that could be worth thousands or even millions of dollars."
As a result, homeowners—subjected to toxic extraction processes on or near their property—have no recourse to object to the destructive practices.
Fracking has escaped much federal regulation and has been shown to greatly pollute land, air and water.
A recent report by Environment America showed that the fracking boom has created a previously 'unimaginable' situation in which hundreds of billions of gallons of the nation's fresh water supply are being annually transformed into unusable—sometimes radioactive—cancer-causing wastewater.
“The bottom line is this: The numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare,” said John Rumpler of Environment America. “For our environment and for public health, we need to put a stop to fracking.”
Shale gas production, which involves the hydraulic drilling practice known as "fracking," is currently exempt from certain rules within laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.
"This is a huge case of buyer beware," said Professor Lloyd Burton, professor of law and public policy at the University of Colorado Denver. "People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don't exactly go out of their way to let people know."