The boom in "hydrofracking," an advanced process for recovering natural gas from shale deposits far under the earth, has added a new wrinkle to homebuilding and real estate sales in areas where there might be gas under the ground. Homeowners and home buyers in some states have been surprised to learn that when they buy a house, rights to the valuable minerals under the ground aren't part of the title — and in fact, oil and gas companies might be entitled to drill under the property without the homeowner's consent.

In Florida, D.R. Horton has changed its policy with respect to mineral rights, and will no longer reserve those rights in purchase and sale agreements with new home buyers, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times (for the full story, see: "Home builder D.R. Horton will no longer pocket mineral rights," by Drew Harwell).

Reports the Times: "In a letter Friday to the Florida Attorney General's Office, the nation's largest home builder said it would suspend its hoarding of underground drilling rights until state lawmakers consider the issue next year. The builder will also offer to return the rights for free to homeowners who bought from the firm directly, still own the property and respond to a letter the firm said it will send out by next month."

According to the Times, the change could affect thousands of property owners: "A Times analysis of property records found the builder had given to its own energy subsidiary the rights to drill, mine or explore deep beneath more than 2,500 Tampa Bay homesites, many of which were in the suburbs of southern and eastern Hillsborough County."

A spokesman for D.R. Horton told the Times that the contract provisions withholding mineral rights were disclosed to buyers. But one buyer told the paper that he only learned of the provision at closing, and had no opportunity to negotiate about the issue. Horton has no plans to change its similar policies in other states, the spokesman told the paper, and may return to its old policy in Florida depending on what the state legislature decides.