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Landowners attend a Northwest Landowners Association information expo on Thursday in Stanley, N.D. From right are Wayne Johnson, Brian Hollinger, both of Stanley, Daryl Belik and Bette Belik, both of Ross. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

ND landowners seek education on negotiating with energy developers

STANLEY, N.D. — Landowners in North Dakota oil country had a lot of questions Thursday about wind development as residents of the northwest corner of the state see an increase in wind farm proposals.

The Northwest Landowners Association hosted about 160 people at an informational expo in Stanley to educate property owners affected by energy development.

Chairman Troy Coons said the association continues to get questions from landowners about oil and gas development and pipeline projects, and recently has had more members approached about wind farms.

The group gathered energy industry representatives, state regulators, legal experts and legislators to better prepare landowners to negotiate with energy companies.

"With any type of energy development, generally you're always talking 40 years-plus," Coons said. "You're going to get one shot at a lease that will extend for your lifetime, most likely. So it's very important to be educated right out of the gate."

Northwest North Dakota has one wind farm north of Tioga with two more proposed, one in Williams and Divide counties and the other in Burke County, said Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga.

State legislators have studies ongoing this interim related to wind development, including looking at the impact of wind energy on the environment and what it takes to decommission a wind project.

"I think we have to protect the land for future generations," Rust said.

Bismarck attorney Derrick Braaten said the wind energy leases he's worked on for landowners often have ambiguous language and have been far more complex than agreements for oil and gas development.

Braaten cautioned landowners about the potential for a lien being placed on their property if a developer and subcontractor get into a payment dispute.

"It's certainly something for landowners to keep in mind because some of this language can prevent these liens from being put on your property in the first place," Braaten said.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said landowners in his area have had good experiences with wind development.

"The income off of these wind towers is a good thing for agriculture," Brandenburg said. "Like anything, we've got to make sure it's done right."

Other presenters gave updates about reclamation projects recently completed in oil-impacted areas and technology advancements in oil development.

Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section of the North Dakota Department of Health, told attendees about efforts to develop guidelines to reclaim land contaminated by produced water and oil spills.

Glatt said the biggest problem in getting spills cleaned up is often a lack of communication among the landowner, the company and state regulators.

"If the landowner is kept in the dark, they're pissed off. And rightfully so," he said.

Glatt encouraged landowners to contact the health department if they notice a spill on their land that hasn't been reported and if the land is not being properly cleaned up.

"The best thing I can say is stay involved," Glatt said. "Make sure that it gets back to the way you want it."