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Produce or go: Deadline for 3 Stark County wells is midnight

If three decades-old Stark County oil wells aren't producing by midnight tonight, they will have to be plugged and abandoned to make way for new production so land owners can get the most out of their investments.

In May, the North Dakota Industrial Commission made it clear that three New Millennium Resources Inc. oil wells northeast of Belfield needed to be producing by Nov. 1, which is Thursday, or they needed to be gone.

"A few calls to New Millennium remained fruitless, so I decided, OK, the next party involved in this is the oil and gas commission. I'm going to start bugging them," said one of many mineral owners Dan Feragen of Wibaux, Mont. "It appears I pretty well wore out my welcome there. I want something done and I would like to see ... I'd like to see the right thing done."

New Millennium President Jeff Collins said Tuesday that two of the unproductive wells in the Zenith-Tyler "A" Unit were up and running again, and one was being converted to a saltwater injection well.

"We did it, yay!" he said jokingly.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division has received the paperwork for the conversion of one well to a saltwater injection site, Public Information Officer Alison Ritter said. It had not received any indication that the other non-producing wells were yet in compliance, and could not comment further until the Thursday deadline had passed.

The biggest concern Feragen and the other owners have is that the old wells, which are on the Tyler Formation, are tying up development to the Bakken and other, lower oil formations.

"It appears there's more cooperation between those two that what there is protecting of the royalty and mineral owners," he said of oil companies and the Oil and Gas Division.

Feragen began his crusade to have something done about the wells about a year ago, and thinks that nothing would have been done if he wasn't the squeaky wheel.

"As I find out and talk to people around the state, there is numerous, numerous instances where people have minerals and royalties being held hostage by this antiquated production law that for whatever reason NDIC refuses to address," he said.

New Millennium is not the first to own the wells, Feragen said, and estimated they are the third or fourth company to take control.

The mineral owners also worried they have been taken advantage of, and could possibly be owed back pay, Feragen said.

"With oil prices being up, New Millennium getting a bigger percentage of the royalties, they would bust their butts to be operating that field, when, in fact, they have not," he said.

New Millennium is in compliance with the order, Collins said.

After writing a letter and calling more attention to the situation earlier this month, Feragen noticed a workover rig on one of the wells recently.

"Technically, New Millennium, by taking some activity is covering their [expletive]," he said. "Pardon my language, but that's all it boils down to."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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