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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Owes Alaskan Heirs|for Breach of Oil Lease

(CN) - The government must pay Native Alaskan heirs for its failure to monitor and stop an oil exploration company from drilling outside the scope of a 1989 lease, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled.

The plaintiffs are heirs of Andrew Oenga, who in 1989 agreed to let BP Exchange drill on a 40-acre native allotment at Heald Point on Alaska's North Slope.

The lease was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which in 2001 became responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with Native American leases.

The Oengas allegedly learned that BP was drilling in areas not covered by the lease, so they asked the government to stop the oil company's production in those areas and collect damages.

"It is undisputed that the government did not take this action," Judge Nancy Firestone wrote.

She said the BIA is liable for breaching its trust duties established through 2001 government regulations.

The BIA "breached its trust responsibilities to monitor the plaintiffs' lease and ensure compliance with its terms in 2001," Firestone wrote.

She said the Oenga heirs are entitled to damages, "measured as the present fair annual rental of the improper use of the allotment."

The judge called for a hearing to determine the "precise methodology" for calculating damages.

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