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Posted 9/18/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

A ruling by a Williams County judge last week will definitely benefit one family who owns minerals under Lake Sakakawea. And his decision could ultimately mean that hundreds more private mineral owners could be in line to receive the royalties that the state of North Dakota has claimed.
After the state’s Supreme Court sent the case filed in 2012 by the Wilkinson family back to Northwest District Judge Paul Jacobson, he concluded that the state has no basis to continue claiming that it owns the Wilkinsons’ property. It was the contention of the Wilkinson family that they owned the minerals under 300 acres of property that the federal government acquired in 1958 as part of the Garrison Dam project.
While Jacobson’s new ruling is good news for the Wilkinson family, which their attorney says is owed over $1 million in oil and gas royalties, it also opens the doors for other individuals who claim mineral ownership under Lake Sakakawea.
While the state has claimed those minerals, and in an attempt to solidify that ownership, the North Dakota Legislature passed a bill authorizing a study to determine the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River channel as it existed before the Garrison Dam. As a result of the construction of the Garrison Dam, thousands of acres of land were flooded upstream of the Missouri River to create Lake Sakakawea.
According to the Wilkinson family attorney, there has been a decade of oil and natural gas production that his clients, as well as other mineral owners, are entitled to receive the royalty payments from that went to the state of North Dakota.
While private mineral owners have long contended that they rightfully owned the minerals under Lake Sakakawea, the state Board of University and School Lands, which manages state-owned minerals for the benefit of state schools, has disputed their ownership and leased those minerals and collected the royalties from producing wells.
But in Jacobson’s ruling, he wrote that the minerals in question in the Wilkinson case fall above the high water mark. And as a result, the family is entitled to those minerals.
Jacobson’s recent ruling is obviously good news for the private mineral owners who have claim to those minerals under Lake Sakakawea. They are now in the position to get the millions of dollars in oil and gas royalties that were flowing to the state of North Dakota.
At the same time, it is also bad news for the state of North Dakota as those millions of dollars will no longer be headed to Bismarck to help with the state’s educational needs or to free up money for other state projects.
While Jacobson’s ruling clearly is a win for the Wilkinson family, as well as possibly hundreds of other impacted mineral owners, one would have to bet that the state of North Dakota is going to challenge that decision.