The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) canceled an oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region in northwest Montana on March 17, in effect keeping land culturally and traditionally sacred to the Blackfeet Nation off limits to oil and gas development by leaseholder Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“It’s a very historic day for the Blackfeet,” said John Murray, the Blackfeet Nation’s Historic Preservation Officer.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement announcing the decision that it was the right action to take on behalf of current and future generations.
“Today’s action honors Badger-Two Medicine’s rich cultural and natural resources and recognizes the irreparable impacts that oil and gas development would have on them,” Jewell said.
The 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine region, part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, is wedged between Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The area is historically, culturally and spiritually significant to the Blackfeet Tribe and is part of a recognized Traditional Cultural District, characteristics that caused Congress to legislatively withdraw the area from mineral development in 2006.
“It’s not a wilderness,” said Murray. “It is a living Blackfeet landscape.”
The BLM issued the 6200-acre gas and oil lease to Solenex under then-Interior Secretary James Watt in 1982, but operations on the lease have been suspended since 1985.
The BLM determined that the Solonex lease was issued improperly, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historical Preservation Act, Interior said. The decision came after a careful review of the record and consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Blackfeet Tribe, the leaseholder and others. The area has undergone seven ethnographic studies and one archeological study.
The move by the BLM puts an end to legal maneuvers by the Mountain States Legal Foundation on behalf of Solenex, who challenged Interior’s original November 23, 2015, decision to cancel the lease.
All of the originally issued leases in the area have been the subject of a variety of administrative, legal and legislative actions since they were issued more than 30 years ago because of the significance of the resources in the Badger-Two Medicine Area, and concerns about the circumstances surrounding leasing issuance.
Nearly two thirds of the original leaseholders took advantage of tax incentives established by Congress in exchange for the voluntary relinquishment of the leases in this area.
“There was only one lease that was subject to the court, but overall there are 18 leases,” the Blackfeet’s Murray said. “We are hopeful that the rest of them are going to be canceled also.”