Once a year I'm reminded of the good people of Quitman, Mineola, and all the folks in God's East Texas. Because once I year I write property tax checks for them on my vast oil empire.

"Vast" is a bit of an overstatement. I have no idea how much property I actually own since it's so split up. The taxes on a 0.0006741 royalty interest in 95 acres comes to about $0.05 a year. The taxes on 1/2 of 1/3 of 2/3 of 2/3 mineral interest in 473.8 acres would be more, but no one's drilling oil on that land right now. All told the yearly tax bill is about the cost of a steak in San Francisco. The royalties I earn would pay for a couple of steak dinners a year though, particularly with oil at $100 a barrel.

The US is unusual in that the minerals under a piece of land can be owned separately from the surface rights to farm or develop that land. Texans took good advantage of that option in the early 1900s after oil was discovered and it's common for mineral rights to be owned and divided separately from the surface rights. My great-grandfather apparently took mineral interests in lieu of cash payments for some lawyering he did. And now we have an odd little family legacy.

The administration of that legacy is a huge pain. It took me several years to transfer the mineral rights to my mother's heirs upon her death and the cost of filing all the papers outweighed a year's royalties. People offer to buy the royalties from time to time, but we keep them in the family because they're sort of fun and the offers are never very good. That, and I cherish the yearly ritual of getting a handwritten tax receipt from Mount Pleasant, TX (elevation 404 feet) for my payment of $3.66. They have good handwriting in east Texas.

  2008-01-11 18:34 Z