Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Investigative reporters in N.D. uncover names of dozens of drillers who owe millions in royalties to state education fund

In a win for accountability reporting, investigative reporters in North Dakota were able to obtain the names of 34 oil and gas companies operating in the state that owe tens of millions of dollars in overdue gas royalty payments meant to help fund the state's public schools. 

"The names of the firms on the hook for old royalty payments have not been publicly released in the past, but the state Department of Trust Lands provided them following a request by Forum News Service," Jeremy Turley reports for Inforum, an online partnership between The Forum newspaper and TV station WDAY in Fargo. The companies include Continental Resources, "which is chaired by billionaire businessman Harold Hamm, was the state's top gas royalty payer in fiscal year 2020."

The exact amount of money owed is unclear because companies are responsible for looking through their records and calculating the amount. Also, the amount is increasing for many of the companies that are fighting overdue payments in court, racking up interest and penalties on the principle all the while., Turley reports.

"Once repaid, the money goes to the Common Schools Trust Fund, which supports public K-12 education in the state. The fund that also receives income from land leased to ranchers, a tobacco lawsuit settlement and earnings on investments provided nearly $367 million toward the state's school funding during the current two-year budget cycle," Turley reports. "The amount for schools was increased to $419 million for the next two-year cycle to soften any blows to state aid resulting from the coronavirus, low oil prices and overall economic downturns."

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