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Mineral Development of Indian Lands: Understanding the Process and Avoiding the Pitfalls

Michael E. Webster, Proceedings of 39th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1993)

Why a paper on developing mineral resources on Indian lands?1 Is it really that important? Is it really that different? While the first question is rhetorical, the next two are not, and the answer to both is a strong yes. Clearly, mineral development on Indian lands is and will continue to be significant. Just as clearly, the development of Indian-owned resources brings a developer face to face with unique, and sometimes unanticipated challenges. It is hoped that this paper will provide insight to developers on how to not only survive, but actually thrive, while developing Indian-owned mineral resources.2

[1] Statistics On Indian Owned Mineral Resources

Recent statistics compiled by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) show the importance of mineral production from Indian lands. The 1991 MMS summary reported 7358 mineral leases, licenses, permits, and applications covering approximately 3.1 million acres of Indian lands under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.3 Of these leases and permits, 4158 were classified as producing or producible oil and gas leases covering 1.6 million acres. In addition, this summary noted [2-5] six producing coal leases covering 113,194 acres, and 50 leases of minerals other than oil, gas, or coal.4

In 1991, roughly 14 million barrels of oil, 132,000,000 mcf of gas, 32 million short tons of coal, and 1,135,