A group of landowners from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation led by a former tribal chairman is suing the owner of a crude oil pipeline, seeking compensation for the pipeline that crosses their land.
Tex Hall, former chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, announced in a news conference Friday in Bismarck a lawsuit against the company formerly known as Tesoro.
The lawsuit, which Hall said would be filed in U.S. District Court, relates to a pipeline that crosses the reservation and transports crude oil to the refinery in Mandan, recently renamed the Marathon Petroleum Mandan Refinery.
Hall said the pipeline route crosses 64 acres within the reservation owned by individual landowners, or allottees, and 26 acres owned by the tribe.
The company’s easement agreement with the allottees expired in 2013, according to Hall. The landowners tried negotiating with the company, but talks fell apart, Hall said.
The lawsuit alleges the company is trespassing by operating the crude oil pipeline without authorization of the landowners or approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hall, who is president of a group called the Fort Berthold Allottee Land and Mineral Owners Association, said 450 landowners are affected.
“All of these landowners have finally decided enough is enough,” he said.
The complaint asks for a jury trial and seeks compensation for trespassing, in an amount determined at trial, and other damages. It also seeks $128 million to be placed in a constructive trust for the benefit of the plaintiffs and similarly situated allottees.
“There’s a huge amount of money with this size of pipeline going through,” Hall said. “They have the revenue and they're not negotiating in good faith. They left us no choice.”
The complaint also seeks a cease-and-desist order for the operation of the pipeline and the immediate removal of the pipeline. It also asks for a complete inspection of the pipeline due to concerns the landowners have about pipe that is exposed above ground, Hall said.
The complaint names Tesoro High Plains Pipeline Company, Tesoro Corp., Andeavor or Andeavor Logistics and other affiliated companies. Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro, recently merged with Marathon Petroleum.
Destin Singleton, a spokeswoman for Marathon Petroleum Corp., said the company is unable to comment on pending litigation.
Hall, who is seeking to be elected tribal chairman, claims that the pipeline company settled with the MHA Nation for $54 million and offered allottees $850 an acre. Hall criticized the Tribal Business Council for not doing more to represent the landowners in their negotiations.
Tribal Chairman Mark Fox, who is seeking re-election, disputed the figures provided by Hall. Information provided by Fox’s office show the tribe will receive annual payments for 25 years, with an annual adjustment of about 2 percent. The first payment of about $1.4 million was due in 2017 and the last payment of nearly $2.6 million is due in 2041 when the new right-of-way agreement expires, according to figures from Fox’s office.
Fox's the allotted lands are under the legal responsibility of the BIA, not the tribal government.
“Hall is simply using this lawsuit for his political purposes,” Fox said in an email.
The complaint, obtained by the Tribune, was not filed in U.S. District Court as of late Friday afternoon.