BISMARCK – With at least $134 million hanging in the balance, and potentially millions of dollars more at stake, North Dakota’s Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on who owns mineral rights along the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea – landowners or the state.
The court will decide who owns the rights to the “shore zones,” or the area between the ordinary high and low watermarks along public waters.
Attorneys had 30 minutes to sway the five-member court over the ownership of the shore zone minerals after Stanford Reap and Brigham Oil and Gas, which was acquired by Statoil Oil & Gas, filed similar lawsuits against the state. The two suits were combined during Tuesday’s hearing.
The oil companies have an interest because a ruling in favor of the landowners would open up more acres for oil and gas development.
“It’s one big decision of a long line of decisions,” said Lance Gaebe, commissioner of the Department of Trust Lands, which oversees the state’s 2.5 million mineral acres. “It’s a big piece of the discussion, but there are still a lot of parts yet to be decided.”
The case was appealed to the high court after Northwest Judicial District Judge David Nelson ruled in January that the state owns the minerals in the shore zone.