Kansas landowners celebrate legal win over gas company

Published On: Mar 05 2014 10:35:55 PM CST   Updated On: Mar 05 2014 10:56:32 PM CST
PRATT, Kan. -

After a five-year battle, Dorothy Trinkle and other land owners across Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties have reason to celebrate.

"Hooray!" Dorothy Trinkle of rural Cunningham says.  "This just confirms what we have been saying all along.  This is our gas!"

It's natural gas that families were profiting from until 2009.  Then, Northern Natural Gas stepped forward and insisted it actually owned all that gas.  The company claimed the gas was only underneath that land because it was leaking out of Northern's underground storage field near Cunningham.  The federal government sided with Northern and forced all the private wells to be shut down.

"This has affected over fifty families," landowner Paul Brown says.

But now a federal judge has ruled in favor of these Kansans.

"It looks to me like Northern is going to have to pay damages to the landowners for the loss of production," Brown adds.

The judge says the company must compensate them for the value of the natural gas under their land whether it leaked from Northern's storage field or not. 

Meanwhile, the company says this ruling doesn't determine that Northern did anything wrong.

"The ruling does not change Northern's ongoing claim, which has yet to be fully litigated, that the third-party producers interfered with Northern's operation of its storage field," Northern spokesman Michael Loeffler says.

The landowners say they don't expect they'll ever be able to reopen their wells.  However, they believe their years of legal battles may at least force Northern to pay for what they say the company has stolen from them.

"It means it may be finally over," Trinkle says.  "My husband always said he would be dead and gone before this is settled, and he is."

The landowners expect Northern to negotiate financial settlements with them.