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February 24, 2013

Missing: Mineral rights holders

NORMAN — The amount of money owed to Oklahoma mineral-rights owners who can’t be located has exploded in recent years as oil and gas production increased sharply across the state.

An Oklahoma Corporation Commission account that holds unclaimed royalty payments for five years has ballooned from less than $5 million a decade ago to a record $53 million last year.

In fiscal 2012, the account had more than 262,000 missing mineral-rights owners, with a highest individual amount owed of $329,270.

Another account in the Office of the State Treasurer owes about $52 million to mineral owners whom oil and gas companies report they couldn’t locate.

If drilling continues to expand, the combined $105 million in both accounts will likely rise.

Most owners will never know that they’re missing out on their share of the state’s oil and gas boom. An average of about 95 percent of the Corporation Commission account isn’t claimed by royalty owners during the five-year period the money sits in the account.

The state benefits by using the cash and investment returns from the accounts to bolster the state budget. Portions of returns go to the Corporation Commission, the Treasurer’s office and the state’s general revenue fund.

Until recently, Gladys Dronberger was among those missing owners.

Several decades ago, her grandfather, John Snyder, was sitting in Calumet drinking coffee with friends when a man drove up and offered to sell the men investment shares in a well. The farmers pooled their money and bought some shares.

In the 1970s, Dronberger’s father, Archie Edward Barrett, and his family inherited the investments in the well.

Fast forward about 40 years: A friend of Dronberger’s sees Barrett’s name in a public notice and calls Dronberger, who lives in Edmond. It turns out there was still about $100 left in that old well, Dronberger said. Barrett had died in 2005 and left the shares of the well to Dronberger, who said she then gave the shares to her grandson, Preston Dronberger.

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