Conservation groups today hailed the Department of the Interior’s announcement that it had cancelled the last two oil and gas leases remaining in the Badger-Two Medicine area, the sacred homeland of the Blackfeet people and an ecologically vital landscape connecting the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.
The Department of the Interior announced it will fully reimburse the two leaseholders, Moncrief Oil and JG Kluthe Family Trust, for their payments associated with the leases. This mirrors the agreement reached with Devon Energy in November 2016. The departure of the two leaseholders from the Badger-Two Medicine marks a major milestone, as the last of the illegally issued leases have now been removed.
“This is a day that so many people—Blackfeet, conservationists, hunters, anglers, Montana residents and visitors—have been working toward for more than 30 years,” says Kendall Flint, president of Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance. “It’s impossible to overstate just how many people have worked over the decades to get these leases cancelled. They come from all walks of life and are driven by the shared conviction that certain places, like the Badger-Two Medicine, are simply too biologically- and culturally-rich to drill.”
One legal challenge to the Badger is ongoing—a suit filed by Solenex, LLC to overturn the Department of the Interior’s cancellation of its lease.
“The fight is not over. Nonetheless, today represents a landmark moment in the decades-long battle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine region, and future generations will be even more thankful for it than we are today,” said Tim Preso, managing attorney at Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies region office. “We will continue to advocate for this wild and sacred landscape until the last threat to its integrity is removed.”
In the 1980s virtually the entire Badger-Two Medicine area, totaling over 130,000 acres, was leased for energy development in violation of bedrock environmental laws and over the objections of the Blackfeet Tribe. Eighteen leases remained until 2016. In March the Department of the Interior cancelled a lease held by Solenex, LLC. In November the largest leaseholder in the Badger, Devon Energy, agreed to cancellation of its 15 leases in the area. Devon Energy acknowledged in a signing ceremony with the Blackfeet and Secretary Jewell that the Badger is too culturally and historically significant to be industrially developed. Three other major energy companies—BP, Occidental Petroleum, and Williams—reached similar conclusions and voluntarily relinquished their leases in the Badger after Congress withdrew the Rocky Mountain Front from future leasing in 2006.
In recent years, both the U.S. government and the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council have negotiated with leaseholders to remove the threat of oil and gas development from the Badger-Two Medicine. Leaseholders have been offered tax incentives, a buy-back of all sunk costs, cash payments, lease options in other areas, and even pre-drilled wells on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in return for retiring their Badger-Two Medicine leases.
“Today’s final action reflects the wisdom and forward-thinking of business owners, tribal leaders, elected officials and individuals who traveled different paths to come to the same solution for protecting this priceless landscape,” said Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for National Parks Conservation Association. “The actions by the Blackfeet Nation and private interests to ensure the previous leaseholders were made whole again also demonstrate grace under extreme pressure to preserve these wildlands.”
Among those opposing drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine are the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, National Congress of American Indians, Glacier County Commissioners, retired Glacier National Park superintendents, retired US Forest Service and BLM leadership. A recent poll conducted by the University of Montana found that 70% of Montanans also oppose drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine.
“We are incredibly grateful to Senator Jon Tester and Secretary Sally Jewell for righting this historic wrong perpetrated against the Blackfeet people and for listening to all of the Montanans who wanted the threat of oil and gas development removed from this amazing place,” says Casey Perkins, Montana Wilderness Association’s Rocky Mountain Front field director. “This is a glorious day that we will build on to bring permanent protection to the Badger-Two Medicine.”
Tim Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Kendall Flint, Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, (406) 226-4699 (h); (406) 450-8790 (c)
Jennifer Ferenstein, The Wilderness Society, (406) 544-5987
Michael Jamison, National Parks Conservation Association, (406) 250-2540
Casey Perkins, Montana Wilderness Association, (406) 544-1093