Understanding Coal Lease Ownership

We receive lots of emails from people who find their name or a relative’s name on our site and want to know if this means they have some right to the land listed under that name. The short answer is, “if you have to ask, then probably not” but the complete answer deserves the time and attention that is best served in a blog post.

There are many types of interest relationships that an entity can have with a coal mining lease.  One can be an agent, standing in for an owner (this is often a lawyer).  One can be in the process of establishing a lease as an applicant. The most common type of relationship, however, is to be a lessee (lease holder).

Lease ownership gives the lessee property rights to otherwise public land.  A lease is not the same as buying a piece of land and so ownership is a question of whether you both have a lease with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—through purchase, inheritance, by establishing a lease, etc—AND that you have maintained this lease—by keeping up-to-date with BLM requirements.

Is the lease “authorized”?

Leases can go through many different “dispositions.” When lease paperwork is first filed but hasn’t been approved, the lease’s disposition is listed as “pending.” Once the lease has been approved, the lease is now “authorized.” This means that the owners can begin operations on the land in accordance with the terms of their lease.

There are many reasons why a lease may be “closed.” When a lease is active, the lessee is leasing the land from the federal government. Every year, the lessee must renew the lease by filing paperwork and paying their annual fees. Failure to renew will result in the lease being closed and the land be turned back over to the BLM. If the land is not as valuable as the lessee had expected or no longer convenient to own, the lessee may voluntarily close it. The state of land may also change, such as what is happening in the Angeles National Forest, where part of it is being redesignated as a national monument. As such, that land is no longer managed by the BLM and, therefor, leases will cease to be valid. Regardless, once a lease is closed, the owner and anyone related to the owner no longer has rights to that land.

If the lease is authorized, things get a bit more complicated:

Is the current owner really you?

For those who find their names on an owner page but don’t remember establishing a lease, the lease probably belongs to another person of that name. Staking a lease is no small task. Granted, if you bought or inherited this lease, then the process of staking the lease was already completed by the original lessee. Yet, as mentioned above, leases also have to be maintained, which means someone has to be filing the renewal and paying the fees to keep it open. It is unlikely to just forget about this process though there have been occasions where a lease is jointly owned and all this was done by some other partner.

Is this a case of inheritance?

Leases can be bought, sold, and inherited. In any of these cases, it is still important to remember that the annual fees and paper work do not end with the past ownership. It is now your responsibility to make sure that the BLM is up-to-date with the leases ownership and the lease continues to be annually renewed. It is important to make sure that you are fully in compliance with the BLM, as what applied to the previous owner, may not apply to you.

Can I Reopen My Lease?

For those who still want a lease, even after it has been closed, the process (called relocation) is more complicated. Fortunately, a previously staked lease means that you have all the information about the lease already filled out. The borders are already defined and, hopefully, the lease remains marked.

Unfortunately, the land in question may no longer be available. The land could now fall under a different designation such as a national park or monument and not be leaseable. Even if the land is still leaseable, once a lease has been closed, anyone else can establish their own lease on that land.

To establish your own lease, you will need to confirm that no one else has an overlapping right to that land. A quick starting place is to see if there are any other leases in that same township by looking at any township pages listed on your lease page on The Coal Fields. The only definitive confirmation, however, is to work with your local BLM administrative office where you can inspect detailed maps on any nearby active leases.

If you in the process of relocation or have successfully relocated a lease, we would particularly love to hear from you in the comments!

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