The concurring opinion delves into the common and dictionary definitions of the word "mineral" for the purposes of mineral rights and finds that fossils, in general, are not valuable because of their mineral content, so they should not fall under mineral rights laws.
The dissenting opinion cites previous cases the same court had handled in mineral rights disputes and further notes that the legislature had already passed a law clarifying fossil rights with the exception to any fossils currently involved in court cases, so the question at hand was whether this particular fossil was considered a mineral under Montana law. The dissenting opinion also points out that diamonds, composed entirely of carbon, pass the ruling's "rare and exceptional" test for value, despite being composed of something that's neither rare nor valuable. So why are these fossils being treated differently from diamonds?
As a fossil nerd I'm glad the ruling landed the way it did, but as a totally-ignorant-of-jurisprudence-layman, the dissenting opinion is more compelling and seems better written.
Since it was a 4-3 decision I was a little curious about the political leanings of the justices, but that data doesn't appear to be available.
Is there a good reason this exists? Is it like that in other parts of the developed world?
You (or a previous owner) can choose to sell or lease the minerals under your house.
It is so difficult to buy land without being informed of its mineral rights that it might actually be technically impossible to acquire land without knowing beforehand the status of those rights unless you specifically set out to do so as an experiment or something.
Like by covering your eyes, plugging your ears, and screaming "LA LA LA LA" as you initial the page of the contract describing mineral rights. Or not actually reading the results of a title search.
So you own the dirt, but people don't want dirt they want gold, oil, and other such things.
The only thing the judge said was that dinosaur bones aren't "minerals".
If they had found ancient pottery or buried gold coins those also aren't minerals. Yeah gold coins, even though gold is considered a "mineral" stamped coins are not for the purposes of mineral rights.
If a previous owner sold the rights to the minerals in the dirt under your house, that's on you for not paying attention during the sale-- assuming you wanted the rights to begin with.
The prior owner may have granted use of the land for mining without further compensation or requiring the surface be usable.
Surface mining in Appalachia for coal is a good example.
A modest survey of the topic:
Mineral Rights in Central Appalachia: A Brief History of the Broad Form Deed in
Kentucky and Tennessee
Blakely Elizabeth Whilden
They bought the land with an agreement that the former owners had mineral rights. Gas companies are know for purchasing the rights to pump oil from landowners. It’s pretty common in areas where people own larger tracts of land, as it gives those landowners a bit of income (though of course the downside is that the the mining can damage the property).
In my jurisdiction at least, the owner of the mineral rights is not allowed to disturb any buildings and they have to put the land back to an acceptable state before finishing up.
For example, in Iowa, if an oil pipeline spills, the oil company's damages are capped at something like $1M. IIRC that's in total across the state per spill, not per landowner; you can imagine costs to actually clean things up being far in excess of that. They're essentially allowed to externalize all the environmental/health/safety risk to the landowners, nearby residents and workers, the state, etc. And that's in a situation where the pipeline company was allowed to seize use of the land under eminent domain.  So the landowners had no choice and will have essentially no recourse if there are problems.
 My parents fought this seizure and lost in the Iowa Supreme Court. They're appealing to the US Supreme Court. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-court...
You and your family have my sympathies.
That is certainly not right or just.
Good luck in your legal battles!
If someone said you can have this plot of land for $1M and all of the mineral rights too, or for $400,000 without the mineral rights, many buyers choose the latter, never intending to drill for oil, or frack, or mine for other minerals.
"Owning" just means you have a limited bundle of legal rights pertaining to a certain place.
You can't build what you like (In Australia I'm not even legally allowed to run a cable inside a wall), there are quite hard limits to externalities and you still have to pay land rent (which is nominally for services, but of course you can't opt-out).
The main practical difference is the financial arrangement, you get a bunch of extra rights over a particular place which you can sell later on. It's also really nice to have the feeling that you can stay as long as you want.
There are lots of alternative ways things could work though, what would you do differently?
Should "owning" a piece of land entitle you to everything from the earths core all the way into deep space?
Traditionally it goes further, all the way to heaven and hell. But in modern times, air rights are limited to what you can actually use from the surface; airplanes don’t trespass, etc.
- If you own all the water resources under your house, your neighbors can't operate a well -- it drains your water
- If you own all the minerals under your land, mining operations are functionally impossible. Mapping each lump of coal back to the parcel it's two miles under isn't practical -= not to mention needing to tunnel through someone's "land" (and you may hate mining, fine, but understand that coal mining was historically critical, and a lot of the houses on top of the coal mines were part of the economy that they powered. they weren't trying to shut down the industry.)
- Infrastructure projects become impossible. You think CA's high-speed rail land battles were fun? What if New York City needed to get permission from every landowner they build an aqueduct under? The water main would never get built.
No particular reason this exists besides capitalism and maximizing efficiency.
You have to find a very old parcel of land to acquire mineral, land and tree rights all together.
Things like water rights and "right to roam" are downright ancient, and it was pretty common that you could buy, lease or have customary rights to hunt, fish, take firewood etc without owning the land itself.
Lobbying by resource extractors.