Mineral rights on hold because of North Dakota tribes’ suit

July 31, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A U.S. Department of Interior opinion rolling back an Obama-era memo stating that mineral rights under the original Missouri River bed should belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes was put on hold by a federal judge Friday until arguments can be heard in the case.

The memo filed May 26 by Daniel Jorjani, solicitor for the department, said a historical review shows the state is the legal owner of submerged lands beneath the river where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation. The tribes argue that three previous federal opinions dating back to 1936 have confirmed their ownership of the Missouri River riverbed, including a 2017 memo by former solicitor Hilary Tompkins.


The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation sued the government earlier this month.

At stake is more than $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments certain to come from oil drilling beneath the river, which was dammed by the federal government in the 1950s, flooding more than a tenth of the 1,500-square-mile (3,885-square-kilometer) reservation to create Lake Sakakawea.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Friday that no oil and gas royalties in dispute will be paid until the court resolves the issue. Final documents in the case are due by the middle of October.