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How much are North Dakota's state-owned minerals worth? New report gives first-ever dollar figure

The figure was presented at Thursday's Land Board meeting, and marks the first time that North Dakota has assessed the value of its state-owned minerals.

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An oil well in western North Dakota. Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota's state-owned minerals are worth more than $1.45 billion, according to new modeling commissioned by the state.

This appraisal, presented at a meeting of the state Board of University School and Lands on Thursday, Aug. 27, marks the first time North Dakota has assessed the oil and gas assets on its public lands. It may also make North Dakota the only state in the country to undergo an assessment of its oil and gas holdings, according to Land Commissioner Jodi Smith.

The figure is based off modeling by a company called MineralTracker, examining more than 2.5 million acres of state-owned minerals and accounting for the current price of oil, projected future drilling, and the declining productivity of wells over time, among other factors. There are some 8,110 wells currently drilled on state-owned lands in North Dakota, accruing both mineral royalties and taxes for the state government, though MineralTracker's analysis focused narrowly on state royalties.

Joel Brown, who headed the analysis for MineralTracker, said the state government is the single biggest owner of minerals in North Dakota, and the $1.45 billion figure is the largest mineral valuation ever produced for North Dakota mineral holdings.

The state Department of Trust Lands commissioned MineralTracker, based in Watford City, N.D., to undertake the assessment in January for $350,000.

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Most drilled wells in North Dakota are concentrated in the most productive areas of the Bakken, but as those wells become exhausted over time, drilling companies will expand outward into less mineral-rich fringes of the region. Brown said companies have so far only drilled about 45% of the wells that will eventually be drilled on state-owned lands, and noted that the spread to new sites will likely result in more than 17,000 wells drilled in the next few decades.

Extrapolating into the future based on current prices of oil, Brown also assigned a lifespan to drilling on public lands in North Dakota, predicting that the last well will be drilled on state-owned lands 30 years from now. If oil prices go up, that date could come sooner.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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