Landowner Rights

Northern Plains believes that the farmers and ranchers of Montana are stewards of the land, and that corporations should not be allowed to run roughshod over landowners.

Eminent Domain

SP-EmDom-cartoon_WEBNorthern Plains has long worked to help landowners protect themselves from the abuse of eminent domain for private development projects. In 2000, we published a report on the experiences of 18 Montana families who faced condemnation of their land from projects with questionable public benefits. In the 2001 legislature, we were able to secure passage of four bills aimed at improving the rights of landowners facing condemnation.

In 2009, Northern Plains began working with landowners whose farms and ranches lie in the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that will carry tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Texas for refining. The original proposal for the pipeline requested that the Canadian company behind the project requested a waiver that would allow the company to use thinner gauge steel for the pipe in relation to the pressure in areas of “low consequence,” that is, rural areas. In 2009-10, Northern Plains organized the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group to help affected landowners learn more about the likely impacts of the project and to negotiate as a bloc when the pipeline company sought to cross their lands.

Landowners for 131 miles in the Tongue River Valley face the prospect of condemnation if the Tongue River Railroad is ever built to service coal mines at Otter Creek and in Wyoming.

Mineral Development

If you are a Montana property owner who lives above fossil fuel resources, there’s a very good chance someone else owns the mineral rights underneath your land. It may be the federal government, it may be the state, or it may be a private party. If a landowner has a split-estate interest in his or her property, the right of the surface owner is superseded by the rights of the mineral owner.

When Northern Plains worked for passage of the federal strip mine law in the 1970s (Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act), we worked especially hard to include a provision for “surface owner consent,” which gives surface owners the right to keep coal mining off their property.  This provision passed into law but it is only in effect when there are federal minerals underneath the land.  When other minerals or mineral owners are involved, an individual landowner doesn’t have this kind of protection. That’s why Northern Plains has tried to provide information to landowners – through printed materials and public programs – to help property owners be more certain of their rights and how to assert them.

Don’t know who owns the mineral rights?  Find out how to look it up in our Oil & Gas Land Rights fact sheet. This factsheet also contains guidelines on how to negotiate a lease and what to document before development begins.

Forced Pooling

If you have already leased your minerals or are in a current oil and gas field that has a number of producing wells, you may be interested in the topic of forced pooling.

Under Montana law, mineral owners can be forced into developing their minerals, whether they want to or not, through forced or compulsory pooling.  Historically, forced pooling was enacted to ensure that if mineral owners were not able to be located, the resource could still be developed.   Also, since mineral rights tend to be divided among families, forced pooling is sometimes used to gather small portions of mineral rights into a developable unit.  Today, however, as more oil and gas fields are being developed in the US, companies are increasingly resorting to forced pooling – leading to the question as to whether or not this law is being abused.

  • Learn more from our forced pooling factsheet (link)
  • Link to example leases and surface use agreements (link)

Water Rights

Northern Plains is working to:

  • Prevent Montana’s water resources from being wasted;
  • Make sure the rights of existing water rights holders aren’t usurped by energy companies;
  • Uphold the principles of prior appropriation and beneficial use that have conserved and allocated precious water resources in the West for well over a century;
  • Hold state agencies accountable for preserving Montana’s water for future generations.

Oil and gas drilling, and fracking in particular, uses between 1-8 million gallons of fresh water per fracture.  This amount is increasing as fractures become longer and deeper with advancing technology.  No single state agency in Montana is responsible for keeping track of the amount of water used for oil and gas drilling.

More information is available in this new report released by WORC entitled “Gone for Good: Fracking and Water Loss in the West.”

State of MT Water Budgeting

The state of Montana is currently in the process of creating a water budget for 2015.  Northern Plains plans to participate in this process and ensure that our state’s most precious resource is conserved for future generations.

Water Quality

Water quality should also be a key concern when oil and gas development or other development such as coal is near.  Baseline water testing for parameters of concern should be undertaken as soon as possible.  The following factsheets provide a guideline for what to test for, how much it may cost, and where to go.

How you can help?

Join Northern Plains today!

We can provide you with information about the challenges faced by landowners who live in the path of energy development projects, and how you can help improve landowners’ ability to protect their property and water rights. Northern Plains can help you be heard in the legislature as we try to improve the position of landowners who have an energy company at their gate.

We have also developed examples of documents that can help directly affected landowners to negotiate agreements that help protect their property rights.

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154