What Is a Mineral Lease?

Most mineral owners do not develop their mineral rights themselves. Instead, they “lease” the mineral right to oil and gas operators (sometimes called exploration and production companies) who have the capital and the expertise necessary to drill wells.

These lease agreements are typically structured to have a “primary term” and a “secondary term.” The primary term is the usually a term of years (e.g., 3 years), and it is the window in which the operator must drill (or, more often, begin to drill) at least one producing well. Assuming a well is drilled within the primary term, the lease moves into the secondary term. The secondary term generally continues for “as long thereafter as oil and gas are produced.” So it’s uncommon to have leases that are decades old and still producing.

In exchange for the rights to develop the minerals, the operators usually pay the landowner a “lease bonus” just for signing the lease, and then a “royalty,” or a fraction of production, once it starts producing. Lease bonuses vary significantly by region, but modern royalties are usually between 3/16ths and 1/4th of production (with some as high as 5/16ths).