The U.S. District Court for Montana, the Helena Division, has approved a $15 million class-action settlement of a lawsuit that alleged Devon Energy Corp. underpaid natural gas royalties to the owners of minerals rights in the state.

The settlement includes a $5 million cash payment to the class and assurances from Devon Energy that it will stop deducting hidden charges from the class members’ royalty checks, which the plaintiffs estimate will increase their royalty payments by $10 million going forward over the life of their leases, said Jamie Franklin, one of the attorneys for the royalty owners.

The Montana royalty owners filed their lawsuit in June 2005, alleging that Oklahoma City, OK-based Devon Energy and several of its subsidiaries had been making illegal deductions for about 10 to 15 years. An estimated 1,900 royalty owners are in the class.

Franklin called the settlement a “great victory for Montana royalty owners.” Devon Energy also was “very pleased to have reached an agreement that both sides can be satisfied with,” said Devon spokesman Chip Minty. ” We view this as an amicable solution that is fair to both sides.”

Devon Energy denied any wrongdoing in the settlement. The producer’s natural gas activities are centered in the Bear Paw Field in northeast Montana, Franklin said.

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