The mysteries of mineral rights often prompted questions from family and friends who knew that Jeff Kummer and Joel Brown are petroleum engineers. All those questions prompted the two to ask a question of their own, however.
"What happens to all of the people who don't have a nephew or an uncle who is a petroleum engineer to answer these questions?"
The lack of a ready answer led them to launch a new company focused on providing answers to royalty owners. Their tech start-up, MineralTracker, is headquartered in Watford City. The two co-owners were featured at Million Cups in Williston Wednesday, an event that connects seasoned business owners with new entrepreneurs to help the latter grow their business.
"Let me paint a picture for you of a group of people, about 100,000 in total, who netted $3 billion in revenue in 2018, and, in the past decade, $30 billion total," Brown said. "That's a lot of money. And the unique thing about them is, a majority do not understand the source of their revenue and no one is offering to help them understand it. They are North Dakota mineral owners and they are the most underserved market in the state of North Dakota today."
Many of the state's royalty owners have inherited their mineral rights, Brown said, and those rights have been split and split again. Just figuring out if the split has been done correctly is a difficult task all by itself.
But that's just one factor among many where royalty owners run into questions they can't answer. Why is one well paying a good royalty, another in the same vicinity isn't? Is the oil company paying the right amount of royalty?
To figure out the answer to those kinds of question, you'd need to go through hundreds of pages of material that aren't aimed at a typical American — unless, of course, you just happen to be both a top-notch accountant by trade and a petroleum engineer.
And don't expect much help from oil companies.
"That's the first place most people go," Brown said. "And it is like talking to a brick wall."
That's where MineralTracker comes in. The online app is simple and easy to use. It is designed to be an analyst for mineral owners, to help them answer all of these questions and more. The app can even show royalty owners production trends for each of the wells in which they own a part interest, and help calculate what their expected royalty would be.
If the tracker indicates your'e not getting the correct amount, Brown and Kummer can help you prepare the documents you'll need to convince the company to correct the payments.
The initial launch of the MineralTrakcer app was as a service costing $99 a month, but Brown said the two have rethought their business model since then. They will soon be launching a new, basic version of the tracker that will be free.
"We want to create an online marketplace for mineral owners to come, find the help they need," he said.
In addition to the app, the company also offers other features, such as "Ask an Expert," to connect users of MineralTracker with staff who can help get more specific questions answered.
"We wanted a platform that could get into every single home and help every mineral owner," Brown said.