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North Dakota’s Complex Mineral Rights Issues

by Elizabeth Alford on August 28, 2017

A controversial oil and gas drilling project in North Dakota highlights the complex mix of private, state and federal mineral rights on tribal lands.

Related: North Dakota Fighting for Millions in Royalties

Within one week’s time, the federal government halted and then allowed drilling on a series of wells near Lake Sakakawea in Mountrail County, North Dakota. The Bureau of Land Management granted permits in 2011 for Slawson Exploration to drill multiple horizontal wells from a single well pad beneath the lake, but they were quickly challenged by local tribes.

The Three Affiliated Tribes  - the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation – have asked the Interior Board of Land Appeals to stop Slawson from drilling. They claim the location of the well pad conflicts with a tribal resolution imposing a 1,000 foot setback from the lake, but Slawson contends that the tribe’s setback should not apply to privately owned property.

Slawson’s ‘Torpedo Federal Project’ is now embroiled in litigation involving several jurisdictions and will likely be a test case for the boundary issues that have never been tried.

U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland is allowing drilling to continue through October while the challenge is being argued. He indicated that the MHA Nation does not have civil jurisdiction over Slawson or the BLM.

“The issuance of a temporary restraining order would simply vacate the order dated August 9, 2017; however, normal board procedures would continue to apply. To the contrary, if the temporary restraining order is not granted, Slawson asserts it will likely move the drilling rig off of the well pad to a different [site], in order to mitigate injury, and still incur substantial costs in doing so.” –  U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland

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