Secrecy surrounds the more than $200 million being held in the Bank of North Dakota that will be tapped to make refunds to mineral owners along the edge of Lake Sakakawea near Williston as one attorney is demanding that information be made public.
Josh Swanson, who successfully won a long-running court battle on behalf of the Wilkinson family, asked the members of the ND Industrial Commission to release records held by the bank for payment of oil and gas royalties to Wilkinson mineral owners.
The commission headed by Gov. Doug Burgum is the supervising agency over the bank.
“It’s disappointing that the State refuses to provide this critical information to mineral owners and the citizens of North Dakota,” Swanson said. “That money does not belong to the State. That fact is simple, and unescapable. That’s not the State’s money. It never was. The North Dakota Supreme Court categorically rejected the State’s claim to these minerals and proceeds in the Wilkinson case. There is no good reason for the State not to provide this important public information.”
When asked by the Oil Patch Hotline, the bank refused to release the total amount of money and accumulated interest that will be used to pay oil companies and mineral owners starting in November.
The $200 million figure came from an earlier estimate by ND State Land Commissioner Jodi Smith.
Lori Leingang, senior vice president of human resources and communications at the bank, stated: “The information you are requesting is held in the name of a customer — the Department of Trust Lands — and the Bank cannot release customer information.”
Smith said there are 600 leases that will be entitled to bonus and royalty refunds. These are tracts above the Ordinary High Water Mark of the historical Missouri Riverbed channel.
“These tracts receive priority over all of the other tracts,” Smith said. “The Department will start on the west end of the project and work our way east. Each lease requires we go through a 27-step process to refund the monies.”
In addition, she previously estimated 25 lease corrections would be done each month and actual payments will be made to operators and not lessees. “Refunds of bonuses will be issued to the current lessee and royalty payments will be returned to the current operator of each applicable spacing unit,” Smith said.
The royalty refunds stemmed from legislation, SB 1234, passed in 2018 which grew out of pending court cases where state attorneys were arguing that the State of North Dakota owned the minerals beyond the original borders of the Missouri River to the expanse of Lake Sakakawea.
Attorneys for oil companies and mineral owners argued the state’s overreach was a “mineral land grab”.