A U.S. district judge on Tuesday granted Northern Natural Gas Co. the right to condemn more than 9,000 acres in south-central Kansas to contain natural gas migrating from an underground storage facility.

Last June the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission partially approved Northern's request to expand its Cunningham storage buffer zone by 12,320 acres in the Kansas counties of Pratt, Kingman and Reno (see Daily GPI, June 4, 2010).

A month later Northern filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Wichita, KS, to take 9,117.53 acres in the three counties (see Daily GPI, July 26, 2010). The property-taking, Northern argued, was in the public interest and necessary to contain gas migrating from the storage field.

Northern at that time also asked the court to order gas well operators within the expansion area to shutter any operating wells, which it argued were producing from the migrated storage gas. At least 173 property owners and producers hold a stake in the 40 tracts targeted for taking.

The Cunningham Storage Field can store up to 62 Bcf. Northern, an affiliate of Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Natural Gas, uses the field to serve a market area that includes parts of Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

In January U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown issued an injunction ordering the gas wells producing in the disputed area be shut in (see Daily GPI, Jan. 7). On Tuesday Brown granted Northern's motion to take the property in the three Kansas counties from unwilling sellers.

Still to be determined is how much current property owners will be compensated.

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