Advances in technology save everyone time. We all look to technology to organize and inform our daily lives in both professional and personal settings. How can technology be used to save time when dealing with common title issues? Something as simple as knowing where to obtain a patent or how to determine potential heirs can save a landman time and avoid unnecessary questions and research.
There is a vast amount of title information available online, but knowing where to find it is half the battle. This article provides a brief summary of some of the best online resources available to landmen. These websites1 provide materials ranging from oil and gas plats to well production records, which can be used to form a more complete and accurate picture of the land and title issues being examined.
Because most land ownership in the Western United States originated with the federal government, a good place to start is with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) website2, regardless of the current ownership of the land. The BLM website provides land patents, surveys, master title and oil and gas plats, and historical indices for a select group of states:
- Official BLM Patents are particularly useful to confirm federal reservations.
- Survey plats can be used to track changes in legal descriptions.
- Plats provide a visual representation and depict the current uses on those lands in a given township and range.
- Historical indices provide a ledger-like record of all uses that have occurred in a given township and range.
However, land status records for a few of the Western states are maintained separately on the respective BLM state office’s website.3 See the BLM website for more information regarding the availability of these records.
In addition, geographic reports with accompanying serial register pages are available through the Bureau of Land Management Land & Mineral Legacy Rehost 2000 System (“LR-2000”) website4. These reports can be obtained by searching lands by township, range, and section. Geographic reports provide a list of all uses, including mining claims, federal leases, right-of-ways, and communitization agreements for a designated geographic area and will provide the BLM internal serial number for each use. Once you have the serial number, an accompanying serial register page which is available for both inactive and active uses provides more detailed information pertaining to each use.
The next source of valuable information is the state entity tasked with regulating oil and gas. Various oil and gas records can be found on state oil and gas commission websites:
Unfortunately, most states have unique websites that require a little patience to navigate. Also, some states do not provide older production records online. Although it is easier to search in some states than others, most states also provide spacing and pooling orders. These records are helpful to find detailed information on a well or to determine whether a lease has been properly held by production.
Individual county resources available online can vary greatly. Fortunately, more and more counties are providing online parcel viewers, often with aerial maps, which can be used to give a visual representation of the land, surface parcel boundaries, parcel acreage, roads, railroads, utilities, and bodies of water. Most county websites at least provide the status of property taxes which can help confirm surface ownership, while other counties provide additional resources through a paid subscription service.
You may also need to research corporate status or history of an entity. Every state has an entity that regulates the corporations registered in the state5 with a range of information that can be obtained regarding a business entity including (but not limited to) officers, addresses, and formation dates. One type of data that is typically available from these Secretary of State sites, but often requires a fee, is the corporate succession. However, there are other online resources that are free and easier to use. For example, the BLM Wyoming website offers the Corporate Name Change & Mergers Index6 and the National Association of Division Order Analysts maintains a mergers and acquisitions database as well.7 In the event a landman is faced with a gap in title between two entities, these resources particularly helpful to confirm whether an entity has merged or changed its name.
In addition to government sponsored websites, there are also some private sites that can be useful, especially in the area of genealogy. Genealogical research may be required for various title curative issues that may arise, including determining potential heirs, or confirming the death of a join tenant. There are many helpful resources online to troubleshoot these issues, including GenealogyBank.com8, a subscription-based service with a database of 6,500 newspapers which can aide in the search for an obituary or death notice. In addition, Ancestry.com9 can be used for a more intense, subscription-based genealogical search for census records, birth and death certificates, and other historical documents like military and marriage records.
These easy to access records can save time and money when dealing with basic title issues that arise at the outset of many, often time-sensitive, title projects.