Policy: Environment & Energy

North Dakota justices side with state in mineral rights case

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Associated Press,North Dakota,Energy and Environment,Law,Mining

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state in a dispute with landowners over who owns mineral rights near the Missouri River and other navigable waters.

The Supreme Court's decision Thursday upheld a district court ruling that says the state owns the mineral rights to a so-called shore zone, or the area between the ordinary high and low watermarks along public waters.

The Bismarck Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1g88E71 ) that the high court ruling releases more than $140 million in oil bonuses and royalties to the state.

A group of landowners in the Williston area filed one of the lawsuits in the case. The other was filed by Brigham Oil and Gas, which has dozens of people claiming ownership of minerals from an oil well between the low- and high-water marks along the Missouri River.

Jan Conlin, an attorney for landowners in the Williston area, said she and other attorneys and clients in the case are evaluating their only option, which is to petition for a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court level.

State Lands Commissioner Lance Gaebe said prior to 2010, oil companies suspended royalty payments on river shore minerals claimed by both the state and private individuals rather than deposit them in escrow. The dispute involves about 150 oil wells so far, he said.

Gaebe said the state's money from the mineral rights will go into the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund for school and hospital construction.

Gaebe said he doesn't expect an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the federal court isn't likely to rule on how a state high court interprets its own constitution.

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