(a) All conveyances of title issued by the Secretary, except those involving land exchanges provided for in section 1716 of this title, shall reserve to the United States all minerals in the lands, together with the right to prospect for, mine, and remove the minerals under applicable law and such regulations as the Secretary may prescribe, except that if the Secretary makes the findings specified in subsection (b) of this section, the minerals may then be conveyed together with the surface to the prospective surface owner as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
(b)(1) The Secretary, after consultation with the appropriate department or agency head, may convey mineral interests owned by the United States where the surface is or will be in non-Federal ownership, regardless of which Federal entity may have administered the surface, if he finds (1) that there are no known mineral values in the land, or (2) that the reservation of the mineral rights in the United States is interfering with or precluding appropriate nonmineral development of the land and that such development is a more beneficial use of the land than mineral development.
(2) Conveyance of mineral interests pursuant to this section shall be made only to the existing or proposed record owner of the surface, upon payment of administrative costs and the fair market value of the interests being conveyed.
(3) Before considering an application for conveyance of mineral interests pursuant to this section—
(i) the Secretary shall require the deposit by the applicant of a sum of money which he deems sufficient to cover administrative costs including, but not limited to, costs of conducting an exploratory program to determine the character of the mineral deposits in the land, evaluating the data obtained under the exploratory program to determine the fair market value of the mineral interests to be conveyed, and preparing and issuing the documents of conveyance: Provided, That, if the administrative costs exceed the deposit, the applicant shall pay the outstanding amount; and, if the deposit exceeds the administrative costs, the applicant shall be given a credit for or refund of the excess; or
(ii) the applicant, with the consent of the Secretary, shall have conducted, and submitted to the Secretary the results of, such an exploratory program, in accordance with standards promulgated by the Secretary.
(4) Moneys paid to the Secretary for administrative costs pursuant to this subsection shall be paid to the agency which rendered the service and deposited to the appropriation then current.
(Pub. L. 94–579, title II, §209, Oct. 21, 1976, 90 Stat. 2757.)