Questions About Minerals

            Most homeowners don’t spend much time looking at the deed to their home.  They might have seen it when they bought their home – and then it probably got filed away somewhere in a dark attic space, or an unused closet somewhere.  When the home is sold, such homeowners sign a new deed to the buyer, and that might be the only time these homeowners ever look at any deed – when the home is bought and later when it’s sold.

But if they had closely looked at their deed, then some of these homeowners might have found that the legal description excludes all or some of the “mineral rights” associated with the property.  It’s possible to sell the “mineral rights” separately from the surface rights.  This means there can be two (or more) different owners of the same property.  One owner might own the surface rights, and an entirely different person might own the subsurface mineral rights on the property.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there should be much difficulty in defining what is meant by “minerals.”  It seems clear that such things as gold or silver would be included in the definition of “minerals.”  Iron ore, precious metals, and precious gems such as diamonds all seem to fit comfortably within the meaning of “minerals.” But what about something like gravel? Is “gravel” a  mineral? The answer to that question is not immediately clear.  But whether or not gravel or similar materials is a “mineral” can make a real difference, in dollars and cents, in the right kind of situation.

When we think of extracting or digging for  “minerals,” we usually think of such “minerals” as coming from a “mine.” The word “mineral” actually means that which is taken from a “mine.”  When we think of a “mine,” we usually think of a mine-shaft, or a tunnel, which is bored into the earth in order to get to the “minerals.”  But a mine can actually exist where there is no mine-shaft or mine-tunnel. For example, Utah has an enormous “open pit” copper mine at Bingham Canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah.  An impressive photo of the mine can be seen on Wikipedia at    The operations there have been referred to as an “open pit mine” for many, many years.  So it’s clear that a mine doesn’t have to consist of shafts and tunnels.

So just what makes up a “Mine,” and exactly what are “Minerals?”  As far as California goes, it might seem like these questions would only have been important to the California gold-rush miners who were busy digging up gold and staking claims.  But a recent California law case was decided on the definition of “minerals.”

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS