Heartland man wants mineral rights law changed

Heartland man wants mineral rights law changed
By: Carly O'Keefe
WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. - Most folks think if you own land, you can say who comes on it and when; but if you don't own what's beneath your sod and top soil, you could be in for a big surprise.
Kent Sickmeyer's Franklin County cattle fields used to be flat ground, now they're anything but. Heavy oil drilling equipment has torn up his fields, creating ruts two to three feet deep and a half a mile in length. Just after the New Year, an oil company out of Indiana began drilling for oil on Sickmeyer's land, practically in his front yard.
"Where they sunk the well is about 200 feet from our house," said Sickmeyer.
Sickmeyer doesn't own the mineral rights to his land, and he knows as such, he doesn't have the right to stop the company leasing those mineral rights from drilling.
"It appears to me that I don't have control of the surface. Although I own the surface, they can come on the property whenever they want, where every they want as close to a house as they want, no matter what the ground conditions are," said Sickmeyer.
"If you don't own the mineral rights, someone else does, and they have an easement and the right to come on your property," said West Frankfort Century 21 Realtor Marce Trusty-Easley.
Trusty-Easley says a lot of folks in southern Illinois own the land, but not what's under it.    
"In southern Illinois I'd say 95 percent of people don't own the coal rights or mineral rights to the property that they own," said Trusty-Easley.
Sickmeyer says he doesn't mind sharing, he just wishes there was more of a balance between surface and mineral rights.
"I don't have the ability or money to dig coal or oil on this property, they do have the ability to do a fair amount of damage to the top," said Sickmeyer.
Representative John Bradley of Marion, Illinois is sponsoring a bill that would require companies to compensate landowners more for making a mess of on their property while exercising mineral rights. But Sickmeyer believes even more needs to be done.
"I believe what we should have in Illinois is if those mineral rights come up for sale, I believe the surface owner should have the first right of refusal," Sickmeyer said.
At the very least Sickmeyer says he wishes surface owners could have a say in when the drilling starts. He'd have picked a dryer month.