If The Feds Block Oil Development Mineral Rights Owners Should Be Compensated
The State of North Dakota, and four western counties in the state, are suing the federal government over the decision to block the building of roads in federal grasslands areas to facilitate oil development. The state and the counties say they have the right to build roads in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. The federal government says they don’t.
The matter has gone to federal district court, but before the Supreme Court right now is an interesting case related to land use that may have implications for what’s going on in North Dakota.
Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States, which has the State of Arkansas arguing that they’re entitled to compensation from the federal government for property the US Army Corps of Engineers floods and makes unusable. The federal government argued that this is not a taking, but the justices seemed skeptical.
“If the government comes in and tells a landowner downstream that every March and April we are going to flood your property so that you can’t use it,” Chief Justice John Roberts asked, “that’s not a taking?”
The feds maintained that it is not.
It’s always hard to guess how the SCOTUS will come down on an issue, but if they reject the federal argument and hold that land made unusable through federal regulation is a taking it could have some interesting implications for North Dakota.
The road-building issue here in North Dakota is about facilitating the development of minerals under the Little Missouri Grasslands, 90% of which are eligible for development. Many of the owners of those mineral rights – some are private, some are the State of North Dakota – can’t develop those mineral holdings unless the federal government stops roadblocking the building of infrastructure.
That is certainly a legal taking. The federal government many not be taking ownership of those mineral rights, but through federal regulations they are certainly blocking development, and under the Takings Clause of the 5th amendment that should entitle mineral rights owners to just compensation.
The federal government cannot simply squat on property denying owners the use of that property while simultaneously denying them compensation for that lost use. Here in North Dakota, the federal government needs to either let oil development go forward or be prepared to compensate mineral rights owners.Tags: bakken, eminent domain, little missouri grasslands, North Dakota News, oil, property rights, takings clause