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Press Photo by Lisa Anne Call Gerry Nelson, a landman from Mountrail County, researches mineral ownership in the vault of the Recorder's Office at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson in September.

Oil production brings landmen into county recorder's offices

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As area oil activity ramps up so does the number of bodies in the Recorder's Office at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson, but it isn't additional employees -- it is additional landmen.

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Men and women, employed as "landmen," are scattering courthouses across the state, hired to sift through years of records in an effort to find who owns prospective oil mineral rights.

Stark County Recorder RaeDeen Weinberger, who has worked at the courthouse for 14 years, said things have been steady for the last year, with the same companies coming in and about four to five landmen in the vaults at any given time.

But within the last few weeks, most noticeably after Whiting Oil and Gas Corp. announced its recent success and future plans, activity has exploded.

"We have fellows back there I have no idea what companies or anything," Weinberger said. "They're just coming from all over so we've got lots of people back there."

And it could only get busier.

"If what the fellows that are back there now are telling me, yes, we're going to get much busier because they think there's going to be a lot more of them coming in," Weinberger said.

The activity is reminiscent of 1994 and 1995, when it was "every bit as busy, even more so," Weinberger said. "We had men waiting in the hallways when we came to work at that time. We're not close to that yet, but we've got 12, 15 in the backroom already. But, there has been times when there was as many as 30 up here."

Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Weinberger said it is not uncommon for landmen to stay until closing time.

"I have to go in and boot them out," Weinberger said with a chuckle.

Gerry Nelson, a landman from Mountrail County, has been working in Stark County since January, staying in a hotel each week.

Nelson, a landman for six years, said things have been up and down since January, but activity has really ramped up in the last few months, obvious by the number of people working in the vault of the County Recorder's office.

When Nelson left the courthouse on Sept. 24, it was packed and "insane."

Bryan Kleinjan, a landman for a Bismarck firm which he asked remains unnamed due to the nature of the business, has been working in the Stark County Courthouse since last week and said activity has stayed steady.

Kleinjan said business could shift at anytime to another location.

Other counties are seeing the bustle too.

McKenzie County Deputy Recorder Katie Paulson said overflow areas, such as a sometimes vacant courtroom, a former break room and hallway tables are being utilized "pretty much everyday."

Paulson said on average about 25 people are at the office doing research, sometimes more.

Activity in other counties has tamed down.

Billings County Recorder Donna Adams, said things have slowed down quite a bit.

"We had about a dozen landmen about three weeks ago and now we're down to about five or six," Adams said.

Chris Larsen, Dunn County clerk of court and recorder, said the peak was about a year to a year and a half ago, with 68 people researching minerals.

"We kind of fluctuate," Larsen said. "We're passed our big peak. We probably have 10 to 15 per day."

Larsen said advanced notice of an influx doesn't happen.

"They just show up," she said. "Most of Dunn County is leased up."

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