Court upholds cancellation of Badger Two Medicine oil and gas lease
A hiker looks over Buffalo Lakes in the Badger Two Medicine.
| June 17, 2020 7:22 AM
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. upheld the cancellation of the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park on Tuesday. The historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat, advocates for the region noted.
The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, filed a 2013 lawsuit demanding the right to begin drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine backcountry.
In March 2016, the Obama Administration responded to that Solenex demands by canceling the company’s holding, saying the lease had been improperly issued in violation of environmental law and without required tribal consultation. Solenex again sued, seeking to overturn that decision, and a federal district court ruled for the company in September 2018, reinstating Solenex’s lease. But today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, and restored the cancellation of the Solenex lease.
In their ruling, the Appeals Court judges fully vacated the lower court’s judgment, writing that “The district court erred when it entered summary judgment in Solenex’s favor,” and noted that the basis for the earlier judgment was flawed.
“Blackfeet have lived under a cloud of threat and uncertainty for decades, with the risk of our traditional homelands being industrialized,” said John Murray, Blackfeet Tribal Preservation Officer. Murray also leads the Pikuni Traditionalist Association, which was among the groups intervening to defend against the Solenex lawsuit. “The Badger-Two Medicine is essential to the cultural survival of the Blackfeet. It is our last refuge. The court’s decision today highlights the original error in leasing the Badger and provides great hope that historic mistakes can, at least in part, be corrected.”
Murray noted that the Blackfeet Nation’s efforts to settle the lawsuit had been repeatedly rebuffed by Solenex.
The Badger Two Medicine is a swath of land just south of Marias Pass. Its 130,000 acres are home to a host of wildlife, including a herd of about 800 elk.
In its lawsuit, Solenex LLC demanded that its canceled lease be reinstated, granting the company access to build roads, well pads, and a temporary bridge in the heart of the Badger-Two Medicine. A similar lawsuit was filed by W.A. Moncrief Oil Co., though that company ultimately chose to settle the matter out of court and retire all lease holdings in the area – noting that “the sensitivity to this special area outweighs development.”
It wasn’t clear if Solonex would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court at presstime.