In Oklahoma, there are various rivers that cut across the state dividing property lines and boundary lines. Although it is known that the minerals underlying property do not move as a river or a stream moves, riparian mineral boundaries may shift depending on how such river moved. In Oklahoma, riparian mineral owners adjacent to navigable streams own only to the high water mark of the stream. Navigable waters are that which afford a channel for useful commerce or travel, and under the laws of the United States, such navigable waters shall remain common highways. The title to the riverbed remains in the state or Indian tribe, if tribally owned. In Oklahoma, all of the major rivers have been determined to be non-navigable in nature, except that portion of the Arkansas River between the convergence with the Grand River and the Arkansas state line.
As to non-navigable streams, which are almost the entirety of the streams in Oklahoma, the adjacent riparian owners own the mineral estate underlying said stream, each owner owning up to the middle of the stream. Although a riparian mineral owner owns the estate up to the middle of the stream, this acreage is subject to loss or gain by the process of accretion or avulsion, just like surface estates. This apportionment of Oklahoma riparian mineral acreage differs from Texas, as well as other states.
The largest factor in apportioning riparian mineral acreage is determining if the river has moved, and then if said movement was due to accretion or avulsion.
Avulsion, which is the sudden, perceptible change in riparian property, usually due to a large flood or heavy storms, does not change the boundaries of riparian property or mineral ownership. Usually, a rapid change in the course of a river moves a quantity of soil from one part of a bank to another part of the same bank, or to a different owner’s bank. The boundary line for the property and minerals remains at the old water line prior to the avulsive river movement and becomes fixed with the ownership of the old riverbed remaining with its former owner.
Riparian land that increases through gradual and an imperceptible deposit of material from the river, onto the bank, is deemed accretion. For the movement to be accretion, the movement must be noticeable by the witness from time to time, but said witness does not perceive the progress made while it is going on. If the channel for a stream or river changes as the result of a natural flow or accretion, then the mineral or property ownership changes with the changes in the stream lines.
 Vickery v. Yahola Sand and Gravel Co., 158 Okla. 120, 12 P.2d 881 (1932).
 Ellis v. Union Oil Co., 630 P. 2d 306 (Okla. 1981).
 Mapes v. Neustadt, 197 Okla. 585, 173 P.2d 442 (1946).
 Goins v. Merryman, 183 Okla. 155, 80 P.2d 268 (1938).
Due to the ever expanding drilling methods and the new legislative rules regarding multi-section spacing, it is not surprising that issues have already arisen regarding riparian drilling and spacing units on Oklahoma rivers. When in doubt in calculating riparian mineral title in Oklahoma, or how to proceed with oil and gas operations involving a riparian drilling and spacing unit, an experienced oil and gas attorney can assist all parties interested and involved. If there are any other topics/issues you would like to discuss with the energy community, or myself, please mention your ideas and thoughts in the comment section or email me at [email protected]
Jordan D. Volino is an attorney at Hampton and Milligan practicing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who specializes in mineral title examination, oil and gas law, property law, as well as federal and Indian title and leasing. Jordan is a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Oklahoma City Association of Professional Landmen. Jordan also is a published scholar, national champion in energy negotiations, and frequently lectures over Oklahoma oil and gas matters.
Adjunct Professor J. David Hampton joined the College of Law faculty in 2008 and the Price College of Business faculty in 2015. Professor Hampton teaches Mineral Title Examination and Real Property Law. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1980, he founded Hampton and Milligan, a 30-year-old Oklahoma City law firm specializing in oil and gas law title examination, oil and gas litigation, environmental law, and real estate title examination. Currently, Professor Hampton is a lecturer for the American Association of Professional Landmen, as well as the Oklahoma City Association of Professional Landmen.
Compiled and Published by GIB KNIGHT
Gib Knight is a private oil and gas investor and consultant, providing clients advanced analytics and building innovative visual business intelligence solutions to visualize the results, across a broad spectrum of regulatory filings and production data in Oklahoma and Texas. He is the founder of OklahomaMinerals.com, an online resource designed for mineral owners in Oklahoma.