The legal battle will continue for Andeavor’s Tesoro High Plains crude oil system for the foreseeable future, after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision dismissing a class action suit filed by landowners over claims of trespass.
The High Plains system carries about one-third of the Bakken’s crude oil to a refinery in Mandan, and it has been embroiled in a legal quagmire since 2013, when negotiations to renew its right of way leases fell apart.
On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision in the 2018 class action suit, which seeks bot compensatory and punitive damages for ongoing trespass and injunctive relief requiring the pipeline to be dismantled.
The Eighth Circuit agreed that the outcome of the Bureau of Indian Affairs administrative process would be an important turning point for the case, but disagreed that it lacked jurisdiction until after that administrative process is completely exhausted, especially given the back and forth in the Bureau’s decisions with new administrations coming on board. Instead of a dismissal, they granted a stay, to give the BIA more time to finish its current administrative process under the Biden administration. It also remanded the case back to the lower court for further consideration in light of its ruling.
Individual landowners control 66 of the 90 acres in question for the pipeline’s right of way, and the MHA Nation controls 24. The individual landowners rejected their offers after learning that MHA Nation had been offered substantially more per acre than they had been. They filed suit to try and force the pipeline to pay them more per acre or sun down.
Marathon had partially shut the system down in 2020, after an order from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, amid claims that the pipeline has been trespassing on Native American land for seven years. Marathon was also fined $187 million in damages in connection with the BIA order under the Obama administration. The Trump administration later reduced that to $4 million.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, vacated the previous orders and directed the regional office to reconsider the case and issue a new order. The back and forth was among factors the Eighth Circuit cited in retaining jurisdiction of the case.
In a counter suit, Marathon said it has already fully paid back-rent and past-use payments, as dictated by the BIA. The total tab was $4 million, including $2.2 million for back rent and unauthorized use and $1.7 million in interest.
The pipeline system in question was built in the 1950s, and the right of way was issued by the BIA in 1953. The right of way was renewed and reissued every 20 years thereafter, up to June 2013. The line at that time was owned by Tesoro, which later changed its name to Andeavor, and then was sold to Marathon.