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ND Industrial Commission seeking outside counsel for mineral ownership law challenge

Gov. Doug Burgum, center, leads his first North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, with Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, second from left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, right. File photo/Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Industrial Commission directed the Attorney General's Office to retain outside counsel Monday, Feb. 5, to defend against a lawsuit challenging a new law aimed at clarifying mineral ownership under Lake Sakakawea.

The direction was given after the three-member commission, chaired by Gov. Doug Burgum, met behind closed doors in executive session. Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki didn't offer a rationale for seeking the outside help.

The lawsuit filed last month in Cass County District Court argues the new law is unconstitutional and amounts to a nearly $2 billion giveaway in cash and state-owned sovereign lands to a "small group of private parties in western North Dakota." Proponents said the legislation would help clear up uncertainty over mineral ownership, thus encouraging more oil development under the lake.

Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson, who opposed the legislation during last year's session, is among those who brought the lawsuit against the state.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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