- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A study aiming to resolve disputes over oil and gas ownership under North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea could lead to more lawsuits unless a consultant’s report is modified, according to an attorney for royalty owners.

The state Industrial Commission held a public hearing Tuesday on a study conducted by Wenck Associates, an engineering consulting firm. The study investigated the accuracy of a 1950s survey conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River as it existed before the Garrison Dam, which created Lake Sakakawea, the Bismarck Tribune reported .

Lawmakers ordered the study in relation to legislation requiring the corps survey to be presumed as the historical ordinary high water mark of the river unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” otherwise.

The study found that the state owns 10,400 more acres than the corps survey showed.

“We found clear and convincing evidence there is a difference between our analysis of the ordinary high water mark and what the corps documents,” said Joel Toso, senior water resources engineer for Wenck.



Several royalty owners and their attorneys have objected to the finding. The study’s results are an “unconstitutional taking” of private property, according to Josh Swanson, who represents many families with mineral rights under the lake.

“They’re rolling out the red carpet for litigation if they adopt the report as is,” Swanson said.

Differences between the corps survey and a 2009 survey by the Department of Trust Lands have already caused multiple parties to claim ownership of the same minerals, in some cases leading to lawsuits.

“If the state decides to re-litigate this, they ought to be prepared to open the checkbook,” Swanson said.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Wenck Associates will review the nearly 1,500 public comments and make a recommendation to the Industrial Commission, potentially as early as Aug. 29.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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