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Landowners reach out with interest in class-action flaring suit

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Lawyers have heard from "dozens" of western North Dakota landowners interested in joining a class-action suit against oil companies for natural gas royalties that went up in flames.

Landowners are suing 10 oil producers to collect damages for the natural gas they flare instead of collecting and selling, which would in turn bring more royalties to the mineral owners. The suits accuse the producers of violating North Dakota laws regulating how much natural gas can be flared off, when it can be flared and when royalties are due.

The cases have been assigned to various Northwest District judges. The companies being sued -- which include Burlington Resources, Continental Resources, Marathon Oil and XTO Energy -- have not yet filed responses.

Those producers may soon have more company.

Landowners with wells operated by producers not already being sued have shown interest in joining the suit, Texas-based lawyer Britton Monts said.

Oil producers in North Dakota flare nearly one-third of the natural gas that comes up with oil because the gas is worth far less and is difficult to capture and transport.

Millions of dollars could be at stake; roughly $100 million in gas is flared monthly.

The law firms began publicizing the suits in mid-October with a media blitz and a website.

"Since then, we've had a lot of people calling us asking about what they could do to pursue a claim," said Derrick Braaten, a Bismarck lawyer heading up the case.

The website includes a form for interested landowners to fill out with information like well location and operator, and how long the person has owned the minerals.

Interested landowners have filled out the website form or called the firms about the case, and Monts said the Facebook page for the lawsuit has been visited about 6,000 times.

Braaten said most of the plaintiffs currently on the suit are clients of his from before this case.

"Our clients would ask us, you know, 'Why is this happening here? What's going on with it?' " he said, "and that would lead us to start looking into it a little bit."

The law firms expect to consider potential plaintiffs for months to come, Monts said.

"The court will put some deadlines on that at some point," he said. "That would be a ways off since we're just getting started."