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Lawmakers say 3 bills address landowner problems

BISMARCK -- Landowners and mineral producers should be able to settle their disputes easier with three bills Republican lawmakers say will create a benchmark for other states to look to when it comes to oil and gas development.

Lawmakers highlighted three pieces of legislation during a news conference Monday that will create a fund for oil cleanup, allows landowners and mineral developers to use state mediation services and requires more pipeline information for mapping purposes and extra space between a permanent dwelling and oil machinery.

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, said the bills address problems to the people out west.

"I'm confident a huge hurdle has been crossed in making North Dakota a forward-looking energy state," he said, particularly about his bill, House Bill 1333.

The bill, which is awaiting Gov. Jack Dalrymple's signature, creates a state fund under the Industrial Commission to pay for cleanup of oil spills when no responsible party is found.

The bill creates an abandoned oil and gas well plugging and site reclamation fund, using revenues from the oil and gas permits, bonds, federal funding and 4 percent of an oil and gas production tax. The fund cannot exceed $5 million in collections a year and is capped at $75 million.

The bill also requires oil and gas pipeline companies to provide a map of the lines to the Industrial Commission, which will be available to landowners.

Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, said the bills have been pushed by the Northwest Landowners Association, whose mission is to, "help maintain a balance in resource development and property rights of individuals in a responsible manner."

He said some of the bills were a joint effort by the Agriculture Department, landowners association and the oil and gas sector.

Hunskor sponsored House Bill 1352, which allows landowners and mineral producers to use the North Dakota Mediation Service under the Department of Agriculture to aid in disputes.

The mediation service was created during the 2011 legislative session.

Under the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously Monday, conflicting parties could use the service one year after the mineral developer has given a compensation offer to the surface owner, and it is rejected.

If the parties come to agreement, the cost is split. If not, each party will pay an equal portion of the mediator's pay.

Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, said the bill strikes a balance between landowner rights and economic development while, "giving landowners a bigger voice in the development process."

Hunskor said it will, without a doubt, resolve a lot of issues.

"Whenever you have more trucks carrying oil and more wells being drilled, there's going to be some relationships that create some issues," he said.

The bill will be sent back to the House to approve or reject the Senate's changes.

The third bill, House Bill 1348, allows the Industrial Commission to require oil companies to move equipment, such as flares and tanks, that come with oil wells built after July 31 farther away from a home.

The new setback would be 1,000 feet from an occupied dwelling.

Current law requires a company to keep an oil pad 500 feet from a residence, but doesn't address other pieces that come with drilling.

"It makes it a little more livable," said Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland, as he carried the bill to the Senate floor Monday.

The House passed the measure unanimously in February and was amended by the Senate and will face a floor vote within the week.