The oil boom in western North Dakota has led to what is at times a complicated relationship between mineral rights owners, surface rights owners and oil/gas developers. You see, the person who owns the rights to the minerals under the land may not be the same person who owns the surface rights to the land. While the person making money from the development under the land is sitting pretty, the person trying to farm or ranch the land above it can be left out in the cold.
State Rep. Kenton Onstad, a Democrat from the Parshall area, wants to strengthen protections for surface rights owners. He says that more notification should be given to surface rights owners when a well is up for permitting so that they have more time to engage in the process. He also wants land owners compensated not just for the value of the land, but for the value of whatever production (crops, ranching, etc.) that land might have produced.
He says the legislature has moved in the right direction on this issue in the past, more can be done. “Legislators are more educated” about what’s going on in the oil patch he told me during our interview, noting that more eastern legislators have seen the oil boom first hand now. “This isn’t for the next five years. This is for the next 30 years” of development, he said.