Under state law, the only effort oil and gas companies are required to make is to send a letter to a mineral owner’s last-known address.
The missing owners’ share of any lease bonuses and production payments are given to the state, which keeps the money until the owners step forward to claim it, no matter how many years pass.
The amounts of money owed to individual owners range from less than $1 to $329,270.
Most people with substantial mineral rights know what they own and do what is necessary to make sure they receive their share, said David Sikes, past president of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners. Missing owners tend to have smaller interests and aren’t even aware they are owed money, he said.
“It’s a really cool thing. It’s your birthright,” Sikes said. “To maximize it, you have to pay attention to what you have.”
The unclaimed accounts have swelled in recent years because of a boom in leasing activity and oil and gas production from new wells. Oklahoma now produces more oil and natural gas every month than it has in at any point in the preceding 19 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The boom is largely attributable to the advent of horizontal drilling technology, which has opened the door to drilling in shale formations where traditional vertical drilling was not considered feasible.
State officials say among the reasons most royalty owners never claim their payments is that they have no previous experience with the oil and gas industry or don’t know they have mineral interests. Nevertheless, the state must hold their money indefinitely.
The Treasurer’s Office says one of its entries dates back to 1974. If the owner ever steps forward, he or she will receive a whopping $7.44. The state began keeping track of mineral owners in 1967.