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Examination of Title to Indian Lands

Michael E. Webster, Mineral Title Examination III (1992)

The Minerals Management Service, in its 1990 summary on mineral revenues from federal and Indian leases,1 reported that there were 7439 mineral leases, permits, applications or licenses covering approximately 3.3 million acres of Indian tribal and allotted land under the administration of the Department of the Interior.2 Of these 7439 leases and permits, 4137 were categorized by the MMS as producing or producible oil and gas leases, covering approximately 1.6 million acres of tribal and allotted land.3

Production from these leases is substantial. In 1990, 15,317,646 barrels of oil, 126,939,751 mcf of gas, and 27,526,318 tons of coal were produced from Indian lands.4 The combined sales value of this production exceeded 1.081 billion dollars.5 In addition, it is estimated that 15% of the coal reserves within the United States, including 33% of the low sulpher strippable coal, lies under Indian-owned or controlled lands.6 Thus, it seems clear that the development of Indian mineral resources will remain an important element in satisfying this county's demand for greater energy independence in the years to come.

One of the most fundamental, and yet most important steps in the development of Indian mineral resources is the determination of who holds title to the lands and resources to be developed. The examination of title to Indian lands7 is unlike the examination