Friday, November 27, 2015

Benchmarking fracking

(BMGM has been accused of going into the weeds again when I wrote about Benchmarking government.  No, it's just that, as an interdisciplinary scientist, I see connections that don't occur to other people. Or, perhaps, I became an interdisciplinary scientist because I see connections between seemingly disparate things.)

Did you know that, when you buy a home or a plot of land, you don't automatically buy the mineral rights under that plot? Moreover, the seller of a property does NOT have to notify the buyer that the sale does not include the mineral rights. explains this in plain English:
As a property owner, if someone told you they were going to start drilling for oil on your land, you’d probably try to kick them off as a trespasser. But wait! Unless you also own the minerals under your land, that someone might have every right to start drilling.

In the United States, mineral rights can be sold or conveyed separately from property rights. As a result, owning a piece of land does not necessarily mean you also own the rights to the minerals beneath it. If you didn’t know this, you’re not alone. Many property owners do not understand mineral rights.

This article will discuss what mineral rights are, how they can be conveyed separately from the land they lie beneath, and whether you should worry about someone else owning the mineral rights under your property.
The loophole that does not require disclosure probably stems from the wild gold rush days when mineral claims records were patchy and often lost.  Sometimes, the owner of the property is genuinely ignorant about the status of the mineral rights of the property they are selling.

However, this loophole is being actively exploited by some of the largest home builders in the US.  For instance, Mother Jones explains how D. R. Horton systematically strips and sells the mineral rights from parcels before they build homes.

They used to disclose, before public awareness of fracking.  But, they stopped disclosing once buyers started asking questions and balking.  For tens of thousands new home buyers, their first indication that mineral rights have been stripped from their property is when a truck carrying a rig rolls into their neighborhood as in the photo below.  All photos and maps courtesy of Fractivist and used with permission.
For most homeowners, this is the first indication they receive that they don't own the mineral rights under their home.
New home development in Colorado with oil and gas wells drilled AFTER the homes were sold.
If you were a homebuyer, wouldn't you like a quick and low-cost way to find out who owns the mineral rights under the home and what kind of mining they might do in the future?

This is an extremely tedious process that requires specialist training and often involves travel to look at old records in many different possible records sites.

This is why Benchmarking Government matters and why I think the media and many government watchers are focusing on the wrong thing.  More people, not just Governor Brown, should perform the data retrieval experiment and request the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to provide information pertaining to their land.

Some of the fastest-developing areas in the country--North Carolina, Colorado, inland California--are the areas with the most potential for mining and oil and gas drilling.  Those home buyers deserve to know before they buy.

In fact, people who think they own mineral claims should have a deadline to prove and register their claims to a publicly-accessible digital database or lose their mineral claims.  The public should be able to search this database without charge.

What do people do in the absence of reliable information? They rely on their government to protect them against deep-pocketed oil companies.

Notice the line between Weld and Boulder counties and where the wells lie?  Politics, not oil, often determine the location of active oil and gas wells.  In Boulder County, registered voters skew 41.6% D to 18.8% R versus 38.4% R to 23.2% D in Weld County.  Guess which county banned fracking and which county government welcomes it (despite homeowner protests)?

Politics, not oil, often determine the location of active oil and gas wells.
Yes, I do think it is odd that the political party that purportedly stands for personal choice doesn't want homeowners to choose not to allow fracking under their homes.

This issue contributes to the 'big sorting' of America.  It's divisive and contributes to longer commutes (and more burning of fossil fuels).

This is why I believe it is so important for government to be able to provide complete and accurate records.  I'm willing to pay the taxes to develop and sustain these services because I want the records to be available everywhere--and not just in the places where private companies think they can make money doing so.

Also, I want uniform categorization rules and true data interoperability, something that is difficult to enforce in the dot com sector.  Because of my work, I've been able to observe that government has a good track record on data interoperability.  In the for-profit sector, companies have financial incentive to 'hoard' their data and to make it difficult for others to use.


  1. Anonymous11:09

    'What do people do in the absence of reliable information?'

    Data-mine all govt databases and share the info with everyone. That's what should be done.

    1. How do you data-mine information that is not digital and not collected into a unified data base?

      How do you collect and homogenize the data?

      How can you be certain that the data collected is complete?

      We are not talking about collecting click-streams of web browsing data.

      Much of this data is pre-digital and lost in fires/floods/earthquakes. We have bits and pieces in government offices and people's homes and offices throughout the country. This is a very hard problem.

      Even if you could find the government database, how would you post it in a sustainable way? Who pays for the server and data migration to modern formats?


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