Landowners face new pipeline twist

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Owen Hamre, of rural Watford City, said he's done with oil development easements on his property. "I'm not going to sign another one ever," said Hamre, who was sitting Thursday at his dining table with friends and neighbors,...

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Owen Hamre, of rural Watford City, said he's done with oil development easements on his property.

"I'm not going to sign another one ever," said Hamre, who was sitting Thursday at his dining table with friends and neighbors, all of whom were served notice last week that liens were being filed against their property as a result of a construction dispute over a crude oil gathering line that was built across their land last year.

"All the other stuff that happens (with pipeline construction) is nothing new, but this is completely beyond the pale," Hamre said. "There is nothing in the law that prevents this. Who will ever sign another easement in North Dakota if this can happen?"

Owen and Laurie Hamre live in an intensely developed area, with multi-well oil pads both directions on the gravel road in front of their house and at least a half-dozen pipeline easements through their land.

They say the lien encumbers their property abstract, even though they are not party to the dispute between Great Northern Gathering & Marketing, of Houston, who owns the 26-mile pipeline, and pipeline construction company, Mountain Peak Builders, of Wyoming.


Tracy Christensen has a full-time job managing oil development and easements on land owned by her father, Floyde Syverson. She calls the lien a black mark on their land title.

"If we had land for sale, with the lien, we couldn't sell it," she said.

Great Northern released Mountain Peak during construction and the two parties have filed suit and countersuit in court, says Darren Snow, Great Northern's vice president of operations.

The lien, in this case, was filed by a subcontractor, DRM Inc., a directional driller, hired by Mountain Peak.

Snow says DRM Inc. is not the only one and other subcontractors have placed liens on various parcels along the pipeline route. They're doing so to protect their financial rights while Great Northern and Mountain Peak are in court, Snow said.

The gathering line takes oil to a receipt point south of Watford City, where it joins the larger Bakken Link Pipeline.

Great Northern is trying get the landowners out of the middle, Snow said.

"We have asked our legal counsel to explain to us how we can get those liens removed. We don't know if it will be to pay the subcontractor or post a bond or something else," Snow said. "It's very unfortunate that the landowners got drug into this. We don't feel they should be in this."


DRM Inc.'s attorney, Quinn Fylling, of the Bismarck Pearce & Durick law firm, did not return a phone call or respond to an email message by Friday for this story.

Fylling sent the notice to 17 landowners that read "... DRM Inc. intends to file a construction lien on real property titled in your name" within 10 days.

A rare case

Dennis Johnson, a McKenzie County attorney, has been through the cycles of oil development and said he's never seen a lien filed on a pipeline before.

"This is extremely rare. Whether it's proper is the question. The lien should be attached to the improvements on the easement, not the land. It's going to muddy the title and create questions," said Johnson, adding that, if there were a foreclosure, it would likely only involve the easement, which is owned by Great Northern, though the property title will always be subject to the easement.

"This is something that's going to upset people. They'll ask, 'Why am I dealing with this, it's not my pipeline,'" Johnson said. "It just adds another part of the misery of living in the oil patch."

Pipeline fatigue

Some McKenzie County landowners say they're suffering from pipeline fatigue, but Christensen said the notice of a lien raises that up a notch.


"This is pipeline fear. You don't even want to get the mail anymore with these certified letters," she said. "These come in and I say, `Here we go again, Dad.'"

The folks gathered at Hamre's say they've all benefited from the oil development, either with mineral leases, royalties or payments for easements that now are going for up to $100,000 a mile.

Curtis and Jennifer Sorenson joined the Hamres a little late and said it was their third oil development-related meeting of the day.

All bring bulging files to the table to hold the voluminous contract paperwork that's now a daily part of their lives.

"All this takes a large amount of our time," Jennifer Sorenson said.

"Sometimes, it starts when I get up in the morning and I'm not done until evening," Curtis Sorenson said.

Because of the location of their land, the Sorensons not only have a dozen or so pipelines crossing their property, they've also been involved in deals to place two water towers on their land, an airport runway, road projects and the proposed 30-inch crude oil Dakota Access pipeline.

Jennifer Sorenson said it's a complex situation for all of them, because, at least financially, the oil boom has been good for them.


"We were all doing fine, but struggling, so these are pennies from heaven," she said.

"All of our grandparents homesteaded here. Sometimes I feel like we're selling our soul, our virgin ground, and yes, we're getting money for it," Jennifer Sorenson said.

Laurie Hamre said their objections to the lien shouldn't be misconstrued as opposition, when really there's a whole different motive at play.

"A lot of people are fighting to leave, but we're fighting to stay," she said.

Christensen said she spends 40 hours a week helping her dad, who, in turn, says he has no idea exactly how many easements cross his land, though he knows he's dealing with five major oil companies and between five and eight pipeline companies.

"I can't complain as far as the money goes, but it's unbearable," Syverson said.

Owen Hamre says no one at the table is a complainer and they've done their best to fairly and equitably enable the development from which they've all benefited.

"But this feels very ominous," he said.

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