Regs mandate more info for ND oil-patch landowners

AP News
|
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 9:11 AM

North Dakota regulators are moving to strengthen oil production rules to give landowners more information about accidents and plans to reclaim their property when the oil pumping stops.

The proposed rules, which are likely to take effect next spring, would require oil rig operators to notify surface landowners about most accidents _ such as an oil spill or salt water spill _ that affect their land. Operators would have to provide copies of any reports about an incident to any affected property owner.

At present, a spill of more than one barrel, or 42 gallons, on an oil well site must be reported to the state Industrial Commission, which regulates North Dakota oil and gas production. Operators do not have to inform the surface landowner, although many do voluntarily, said Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources.

The proposed rule specifies that the owner of land where an oil well is located _ as well as any neighboring landowners whose property is affected by a spill's spread _ must be told about an accident.

"We think it's the right thing to do," said Bruce Hicks, assistant director of the mineral resources agency. "We think that the surface owner has the right to know about a spill, and a followup report would tell them what problems might exist afterwards."

In western North Dakota's oil patch, property owners often do not own the mineral rights to their land.

The new package of oil and gas regulations is intended in part to strengthen the rights of surface landowners and provide them with more information about energy development on their property, Helms said.

Other proposed rules say oil well operators must tell surface landowners their plans for reclaiming any well site at least 10 days before work begins. The Industrial Commission, which reviews reclamation plans, must send a copy of any approved plan to the property owner.

Some oil companies have objected to the proposals, although Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said they were generally considered reasonable.

Continental Resources Inc. of Enid, Okla., and Ward Williston Oil Co. of Bloomfield, Mich., said requiring oil companies to provide reclamation plans to landowners at least 10 days before work begins would be expensive and burdensome.

Landowners may believe they have authority to veto a reclamation plan, rather than simply to comment on it, Continental Resources officials said.

Helms said the rule "in no way implies that the surface owner has veto power or control over the reclamation." Hicks said it means only that landowner questions would be weighed in approving any reclamation plan.

"We would take any considerations that they would have into play, but we would not necessarily accept and require what the surface owner wants," Hicks said.

Gov. John Hoeven, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring make up the Industrial Commission, which oversees North Dakota oil and gas regulation.

The rules still must be reviewed by the attorney general's office and a legislative committee before they take effect. Helms estimated the regulations could be in force by April.