Gaining Permission to Survey is Critical to Complete Projects in a Timely Manner and Safely
Why the concern about permission to survey? There are several key issues which include, but are not limited to, breaking the law by trespassing and the ability to compete projects in a timely manner.
Before discussing the two concerns listed above, let’s discuss the three primary types of property/land to be surveyed.
Most of us in the Oil and Gas industry think of property/land as being federal, state, or private. In the case of government owned property/land the federal government also owns the mineral rights as well. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is one of four government agencies that manage various government owned property/land. The BLM manages government owned properties that contain mineral rights. For state owned property it also owns the mineral rights. Private landowners may or may not own the mineral rights within their property.
If a private landowner owns only the surface rights and not the mineral rights that also creates challenges to gain permission to survey for several reasons. One point to consider is that the landowner typically has very little incentive to allow people on their property because they are not participating in a well or wells that will be drilled and produced. So, many times, by virtue of a signed Surface Use Agreement, or SUA, the landowner knows a survey will be performed at some point, just not the exact date….which could be weeks or months after the Landman’s contact with the landowner. From the operator’s standpoint, some think a signed agreement or SUA means the surveyor has permission….maybe yes and maybe no…it depends. Those two words “it depends” can be the most frustrating words when it comes to business and project management. Another time on that saga.
The first point to consider is that once the operator gives us the survey request with instructions, one of our first questions back to them is “Do we have permission to survey?” Upon asking that question, we get a multitude of responses, such as:
“Yes, I talked to the Landowner yesterday, they know you’re coming”.
“Yes, but let me call the Landowner and let them know you’re coming”.
“Yes, but call the Landowner when you’re going out”.
“Uh, I don’t know…. good question, let me check on that”….and sometimes we don’t have permission and the staking is delayed.
Again, no survey crew wants to be on a landowner’s property without permission…it’s trespassing in most states. Also, you may catch a landowner on a bad day and it’s typically not an enjoyable experience for something that is completely controllable.
A second point to consider is that timing and schedule are always major factors in achieving successful completion of a project. Therefore, communication across the entire project regarding the surveyor’s role, and the time required to seek and receive permission to survey, is essential for successful completion of a project as well.
Pipeline construction is a good example of the importance of timing and schedule. When starting a pipeline project of any distance, say 7 to 50 miles or beyond, it is also important to get permission for the field survey approved in the order of the proposed pipeline route starting from point mile zero to the endpoint of mile 50. Why? The field survey work can jump back and forth as needed between portions of the proposed pipeline route and adjust data as the project moves along.
However, the customer MAY have time specific deliverables which may require the field survey work to be completed starting at mile 0, mile 1, mile 2 and sequentially to allow for timely delivery of drafting or engineering data for example. Conversely, waiting until the end of the project, then allowing survey sync up of all field data and THEN submitting the deliverables to be produced creates a HUGE disconnect on customer expectations. As we know, not meeting a customer’s expectations creates disappointment and an unhappy customer. It’s an unforced error on the customer’s part for not getting ALL the Landowners permission to survey and a missed opportunity by the Surveying service provider to provide critical success factors for the project.
There are other options to consider to gain access to property/land to allow a survey to be completed.
One way of accessing land that requires surveying is via Right-of-Entry (ROE) laws. The laws vary state
by state, and, some states do not have ROE laws at all. Before a ROE law is relied upon the law for a state must be examined closely as the law varies greatly from state to state. The law describes the rights to use some part of a property for specific purposes or easement(s). The intent of this law is to permit surveyors, in the performance of surveying surfaces, to enter upon lands without permission or legal consequence like trespassing. In some ROE states surveyors are required to give reasonable notice, when possible, to the owner before entering their land or property. In fact, even a reasonable attempt to provide notice is sufficient. This is not true in all ROE states. The terms ROE and easements are often used interchangeably and both vary greatly from state to state also. Additionally, each law may have sub categories as well. However, these ROE laws afford surveys conducted by government employees more protection than those conducted by private survey services.
A second way and relatively simple way to request and receive permission to survey is a signed surface use agreement with the landowner. SUA was briefly mentioned early, the SUA would state the specific area(s) of the property to be surveyed and would be signed by both the landowner and the Landman or representative of the company he or she represents. It is important to identify any neighboring properties that the surveyor may have to enter as well which might require permission to enter also.
No matter how small or large a project may be, this is an extremely important issue to review. Then an appropriate method can be agreed upon for future surveys. Remember, that landowners are NEVER happy to see someone, or in our case a Land Surveyor, show up on their property to survey without receiving permission beforehand!
By Parrish Salyers