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Who owns what? Mineral results available

by Williston Herald

A six-month study commissioned by the state legislature that maps the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River would reduce by half the amount of acres on which the Department of Trust Lands can claim mineral rights.

Wenck and Associates has completed its overview of the Missouri River’s historical high water mark as it existed before Lake Sakakawea, which was created by the construction of Garrison Dam.

The report was commissioned to try to clear up mineral rights ownership under Lake Sakakawea, which has been styming development of oil and gas resources in that area. It has been presented to North Dakota’s Industrial Commission, which is accepting public comments on it from now through June 20.


The legislative study of the riparian river acreage begins at New Town and ends about 9 river miles upstream of Williston. It excludes Fort Berthold. A map of who would get what is available online in its entirety at

Written comments may be sent to or Oil and Gas Division, 1016 E Calgary Ave,Bismarck, ND 58503-5512 before 5 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms was directed to oversee the river study, and hired Wenck and Associates to do it. He said the report includes a lot of information that was missing from a study the Department of Trust Lands did in 2009, which had concluded that the state could claim an additional 25,000 mineral acres over and above what a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey had suggested.

Many of those additional acres were, of course, already being claimed by private landowners, which set off a dispute — and several lawsuits — that has frozen the development of oil and gas in that area.

A majority of state legislators, however, were not convinced the 2009 Trust Land study was done properly, and decided it didn’t include all the information it should have. They passed legislation in the last biennium directing that a new study be conducted to determine where the historical river channel lies. Their legislation would restrict the state’s mineral rights to that.

State representative Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul Sorum, and others have meanwhile challenged the recent legislation, arguing it gives away nearly $2 billion in state-owned mineral rights. Their proposal would quadruple the mineral rights acreage that the Department of Trust Lands could claim.

Helms said the river study he was directed to conduct does include new and relevant data for determining who should own what minerals in the disputed area.