The Rheas ultimately decided to stay at home in North Carolina and retired in rural Lee County outside of Raleigh. What they didn’t realize is that the new home they bought sits above the Deep River Shale basin, an area potentially rich with deposits of natural gas that makes it the next likely location for fracking.
To make matters worse, because of two arcane laws known as split estates and forced pooling, they may not even have the right to say whether gas companies can drill on their property.
In recent years, energy companies have used these precedents to bypass property owners who object to drilling under their turf. Now residents in North Carolina, which legalized fracking just last year, hope their government will protect their property rights before drilling begins.
“Whether we want to sell or not, the gas companies could take our property from us,” said Vince Rhea.
North Carolina gives mineral rights owners the right to drill on land without a property owner’s consent. A bigger problem is that some of its citizens live on plots of land with severed mineral rights and don’t know it.
The separation of mineral rights and property rights may be a familiar concept to residents of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas — all areas plentiful in production of oil, gas and minerals. But the meaning of mineral rights for North Carolina landowners, where the coal industry has been dormant for decades, was unclear until very recently. Most people didn’t even know such a thing existed.