A federal judge has reinstated an oil and gas lease on the scenic Badger-Two Medicine Valley.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C. ruled on Monday the cancellation of the Solenex lease was “arbitrary and capricious.”
In March of 2016, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell canceled the lease which had been granted 33 years earlier.
The lease granted Solenex LLC rights to drill on the badger-two medicine area, which is the site of creation stories for the Blackfeet Tribe.
The court has sent the case back to the Department of Interior for the lease to be reinstated.
-Margaret DeMarco reporting for MTN News
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on Wednesday joined U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes and Devon Energy Corporation CEO David Hager to announce that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has canceled 15 additional oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest in northwestern Montana. Devon Energy owns an interest in these federal leases. The lease cancellations address outstanding concerns about the potential for oil and gas development in this culturally and ecologically important area.
The Department of the Interior said in a press release that the Badger-Two Medicine Area is a 130,000-acre area along the Rocky Mountain Front within the Lewis and Clark National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation surround the area, which is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe and is part of a recognized Traditional Cultural District. These characteristics caused Congress to legislatively withdraw the area from mineral development in 2006.
The leases being canceled today were issued in the 1980s and have not had any drilling on the area since issuance.
“Our pursuit to protect the Badger-Two Medicine has lasted more than three decades, and it will continue until all the illegal oil and gas leases are cancelled and the area is permanently protected,” Barnes said. “This area is sacred to the Blackfeet people, and we appreciate that others are starting to recognize it as well. There are many who have helped us get to this point today, but I want to especially recognize Devon Energy for its leadership and willingness to partner with Indian Country.”
The cancellation respects recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and concerns expressed by the Blackfeet Tribe and interested members of the public. It is also consistent with the BLM decision earlier this year to cancel the lease held by Solonex LLC.
Because the Devon leases were never developed, the area remains undisturbed. Cancellation of the leases entitles Devon to a refund for all rents and bonus bids paid – about $200,000. After today’s announcement, there are only two remaining leases in the area.
On Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 people turned out at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau to hear about and comment on proposed drilling in the Badger Two Medicine area along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the Montana Historic Preservation Office, and the Blackfeet tribe all testified about the area’s importance.
Blackfeet council member Joe McKay recalled an encounter with a Forest Service ranger.
McKay said, “He said, ‘Point to the place that is culturally significant,’ and I put my hand over the whole area and I said, ‘This whole area is culturally significant.’”
Oil and gas leases in the area have been controversial since they were issued in 1981.
Opponents believe that an exploratory well proposed by permit holder Solenex LLC would open the area to irreversible damage.
McKay said, “No action can mitigate or minimize the damage caused by drilling. We ask you to recommend cancellation of the lease.”
The only person to speak in favor of the well was Solenex attorney Steve Lechner, who said the area was already developed with railroads, highways, and power lines.
Lechner said, “The good news if the well is productive it will also mean jobs and increased revenue for Glacier County, and this explains why Glacier County supported the well in 1993.”
Citing a recent District Court decision in favor of Solenex, Lechner argued the Forest Service was illegally delaying the permit from moving forward.
Lechner said, “The only reasonable conclusion we can reach from this two-decade delay is the Forest Service has been using the National Historic Preservation Act to prevent Solenex from exercising its valuable lease rights.”
In response to Lechner, Glacier County Commissioner Michael DesRosier said regardless of the jobs, the county commission was against the drilling.
Now the recommendation for or against drilling is in the hands of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which must make a recommendation on the drilling permit to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack by September 21st.
A website aimed at rallying opposition to the drilling provides the following information about the area:
The Badger-Two Medicine region is an almost entirely unroaded expanse of mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. It is located at the intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and is part of the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Badger-Two Medicine is sacred to our people.
(May 4, 2015)
A Louisiana company is petitioning a federal judge to accelerate his review of a case questioning the firm’s ability to drill for oil and gas along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Solenex, LLC has been fighting to get permission to pursue possible oil and gas development on more than 6,200 acres of land in the Badger-Two Medicine country adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park.
The leases were originally granted by the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1980s, but have been suspended for many years by the federal government.
Solenex filed suit in June 2013, but the case remains in limbo. The opposition has been driven by conservation groups, and by the Blackfeet Tribe, which considers the Badger-Two Medicine to be sacred lands deserving permanent protection.
The company has now filed a new motion in U.S. District Court, asking Judge Richard Leon to open the way for the parties to give oral arguments and “expedited consideration” to the case.
The company says it wants permission to drill a “single exploratory well to test and evaluate the oil and natural gas potential of an extremely promising geological structure.”
Solenex’s attorneys argue the application for permit to drill has been approved four times before, but says the defendants in the case, including the Department of the Interior, continue to delay the case.
Attorneys want the judge to rule now, since the window for doing the exploratory well is only available between July 1 and Nov. 30.