Who Owns Mineral Rights Under North Dakota Lake?

by Elizabeth Alford on October 19, 2016

Private mineral owners in North Dakota are concerned that state official trying to claim the rights to minerals under Lake Sakakawea.

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Attorneys representing the state have asserted in recent court documents that the state may have a right to minerals under Lake Sakakawea since there is no distinction between the lake and the Missouri River, where they have already leased for years.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council commented, “This would lead one to clearly believe they’re attempting to take ownership of the minerals under the lakebed. Families and others have owned and operated these minerals like private property. Leases have been taken, wells have been drilled, royalties have been paid. We’re only 10 years into a very long Bakken play.”” 

Many are concerned that there could be billions of dollars in royalties that will need to be refunded if the state changes its position on who owns minerals under the lake. It is estimated that there is more than $50 million currently being held in escrow at the Bank of North Dakota related to disputes over mineral and property ownership.

Until now the legal case has been built on the argument that the lake is an expansion of the Missouri River instead of a separate body of water. Earlier this month, U.S. Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed one case where the state contends it owns all of the oil and gas under Lake Sakakawea because North Dakota’s title to the beds of navigable waters extends up to the ordinary high water mark.

Another case is being appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court. William S. Wilkinson v. the Board of University and School Lands involves a dispute over ownership of about 200 mineral acres west of Williston.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple asked the Land Board to pass a motion clarifying that the board has not changed its position on mineral ownership under the Missouri River. The Board passed the motion unanimously and many hope that this clarity will help curb litigation. The Land Board consists of the governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and the attorney general.

Read more at land.nd.gov


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