The Common Estate: Property, Energy, and Inheritance in Western North Dakota

Authors: Carly Griffith*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Legal Geography, Rural Geography, Energy
Keywords: legal geography, energy and environment, rural geography, property
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4.5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The northern Great Plains are at the center of one of the most dramatic landscape transformations in North America today. One of only four intact temperate grasslands left in the world, the region is a new energy frontier that supports some of continent’s highest production in oil, gas, and renewable alternatives like wind power. Some people celebrate these industries for the well-paid jobs and demographic growth they have created, while others worry about the repercussions of these changes for traditional agricultural livelihoods and the sovereignty of indigenous peoples in the region—many of whom have had to fight to maintain control of their own land and waters.

North Dakota is at the heart of these regional transformations. The state is now second in the country for crude oil production and sixth in wind production nationwide. Unlike many other regions in the West where the state and federal government hold large swaths of public land, the majority of the northern plains remain in private ownership. Because of this, energy companies often have to lease from private landowners for access to the resources they need. In western North Dakota, this has led to a complex entanglement between farmers, tribal communities, and energy companies as each seek to protect their own livelihood and relation to the land. Within this web of relationships, property law rises to the surface as a key area of contestation and negotiation over the means to preserve future lifeways in the region.

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