WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge handed a key legal victory Wednesday to landowners battling a Nebraska gas firm in a lawsuit over the condemnation of more than 9,100 acres spanning three counties in south-central Kansas.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot ruled Northern Natural Gas lost its ownership interest in gas seeping from an underground storage facility. The judge ruled the company must pay landowners "just compensation" for the value of any storage gas and native gas that lies underneath their land in the condemnation proceedings now underway.
The ruling on the ownership rights issue is the latest legal turn in a decades-old legal fight stemming from gas seeping from the Cunningham Storage Field in Kansas.
Northern did not immediately return a phone message left at its offices seeking comment on the ruling.
More than 173 property owners hold some interest in the more than 40 tracts — spanning Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties — at issue in the federal lawsuit. Northern is using the power of eminent domain to take the property from unwilling sellers.
Northern filed the condemnation lawsuit in a move to stop drilling by third-party natural gas producers, which the company contends have been essentially siphoning off their stored gas supplies by changing the geological pressure. Northern argued the drilling sucked gas from what had been a stabilized storage field.
The company also wants to get underground storage rights on the condemned property and plans to drill observation wells on that property to check for migration of gas.
Still left at issue in the litigation is how much Northern will have to pay the drilling companies who put in the gas wells, the landowners who get royalties off those wells and other landowners whose property values would be diminished by the loss of the mineral rights.
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