A report intended to help clarify who owns which minerals under Lake Sakakawea has been delayed for 30 days, to give the consultant more time to determine the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River channel, before Lake Sakakawea was created.
The legislature directed a survey of the historical ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River as part of Senate Bill 2134, approved last year to limit the state’s mineral rights to the original Missouri River channel.
Rights under Lake Sakakawea have been in contention for a number of years, with multiple parties claiming ownership. Uncertainty and litigation have deterred oil and gas development around the lake, which lies in the Bakken’s core.
The Department of Mineral Resources is overseeing the survey. They hired the firm Wenck and Associates to perform the task, using a 1950s survey of the river by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as their starting point.
Wenck’s report was to have been presented Wednesday to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, but an extension was granted instead.
Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources, said the firm is allowed up to four 30-day extensions if needed. This is their first extension.
She thought the report would likely be ready in time for the Industrial Commission’s April 17 meeting.
Once the report has been presented to NDIC, it will be posted on the agency’s website. There will also be a 60-day public comment period, and a public hearing in Bismarck for public comments.
After that, the Industrial Commission will decide whether to adopt the survey.
However, a lawsuit has been filed recently that challenges the constitutionality of Senate Bill 2134, and asks the court to stop the survey altogether.
Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, filed the suit, which contends that the state does own all the minerals under Lake Sakakawea, and that Senate Bill 2134 is a $1.76 billion giveaway of state property. Hearings on the case have been scheduled for April 11 and 30 in Fargo.
Landowners have contended in other lawsuits that they have records showing that they have owned the disputed minerals for decades, and that the state has tried to swipe their mineral rights without due process.
In a victory for them, the Supreme Court had reversed a lower court decision that said the state owned the disputed mineral rights, and directed it to reconsider the case in light of Senate Bill 2134.