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Tribal royalty payments cleared

BISMARCK (AP) -- Congressional pressure has forced a federal agency to clear a big backlog of oil royalty payments to the Three Affiliated Tribes and its members on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota, Sen. Byron Dorgan said.

BISMARCK (AP) -- Congressional pressure has forced a federal agency to clear a big backlog of oil royalty payments to the Three Affiliated Tribes and its members on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota, Sen. Byron Dorgan said.

But the Bureau of Land Management says it will need a dozen new government employees to keep pace with paperwork created by the booming oil activity on tribal land in North Dakota.

Dorgan, D-N.D., said about $5 million in tardy oil royalty payments and interest earned on them are being distributed this month to the tribe and hundreds of its members.

Dorgan, chairman of the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee, had accused federal officials of dragging their feet in processing so-called communitization agreements that pool mineral interests for oil and gas production on American Indian land.

The senator said some of the royalty payments languished for more than a year because of "bureaucratic processing delays."

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Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Levings said the delays caused frustration on the reservation, located in the heart of the prolific Bakken formation.

"All of this drilling is great but not if royalties can't be given to tribal members and the tribe," Levings said. "We got the message to the senator and he said he was going to take care of it and he did."

Dorgan said he pressed the Interior Department for months to process the payments, which were being held in escrow by oil companies. The Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management manage oil and gas activities on tribal land.

"They've got to be prepared to process paperwork and make sure people get their money," Dorgan said. "They just were not on top of this and prodding has forced them to change their procedures."

Lonny Bagley, a manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Dickinson, said the agency had to shuffle staff to clear the backlogged royalty payments from the communitization agreements, which can represent up to 100 mineral owners in an area where an oil well is drilled.

Bagley said verifying the mineral owners is time-consuming and taxed the bureau's staff. The agency has asked for 12 new employees to handle the increased workload due to oil drilling on tribal land.

"We've submitted a workload analysis for additional staff," Bagley said. The request is pending.

The communitization agreements are separate from royalties paid from oil production on land owned solely by the tribe or by an individual on the reservation.

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