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Commentary: Why is the North Dakota Land Board trying to cost taxpayers billions of dollars?

A drilling rig is pictured near Lake Sakakawea near New Town, N.D., on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Some fear that uncertainty about who owns the minerals under the lake will deter oil development in the area. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

For some reason Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office is, on behalf of the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, still fighting to claim mineral rights under Lake Sakajawea.

In case you haven’t been following along, here’s some of the back story. Lake Sakajawea is a man-made lake created when the federal government damned the Missouri River back in the 1950’s. At the time people who owned property flooded by the lake were compensated for their surface rights. They were never compensated for their mineral rights, or the ownership of things like oil and gas and gravel under the surface of the land.

For decades that didn’t really matter. There was no good way to develop those minerals, so the rights were essentially worthless. Except then the oil and gas industry discovered techniques like horizontal drilling, and suddenly those minerals under the lake became accessible.

Which prompted the State of North Dakota, through the Land Board which manages the state’s mineral rights, to lay claim to them.

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