Even when owners do file claims to retrieve payments, they end up with less money than they were originally owed. The state charges a 10 percent fee when the money is first deposited from force pooling leases. The money also diminishes in value over time due to inflation. Owners get none of the interest or investment returns.
The state is required by law to publish a list of the newest names of mineral owners who can’t be located twice a year.
The Treasurer’s Office maintains an online database, searchable by name, listing all unclaimed deposits and whether they are worth less or more than $100. It also sets up booths every year at the state fairs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where people can check the database.
The state stores the money in two accounts.
When oil and gas companies make payments owed to missing mineral owners in force pooling agreements, they deposit it with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Mineral Owners Escrow Account. The deposits remain in that account for five years. Then they are transferred to the state treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Fund, from which the state can borrow.
The Unclaimed Property Fund also receives other direct mineral-rights payments from oil and gas companies. Typically, in these cases, the companies have lost track of mineral owners who had already struck a deal with the company.
Almost every year, the state borrows from the fund, which also includes money from abandoned bank accounts, unclaimed paychecks, stocks, utility deposits and other sources.
During each of the last four years, the Treasurer’s Office has made $10 million of the deposits available for appropriation by the Legislature.
The Legislature has also dipped into the fund periodically to plug budget gaps. During the last two years, those allocations totaled $42 million.
Between the two accounts, if every person owed funds stepped forward at the same time to claim their share, the state would be obligated to pay out about $350 million, said Tim Allen, spokesman for the Treasurer’s Office. That is more than two and a half times the available cash. About $105 million of that belongs to mineral-rights owners.