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Legal wrangling continues over Badger-Two Med lease

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | January 5, 2022 7:40 AM

A Louisiana-based oil and gas company in late December claims the Secretary of the Interior went beyond her authority when she canceled its oil and gas lease in the Bader-Two Medicine region in Glacier National Park.

In 2016 then Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell canceled a host of oil and gas leases in the region, including one held by the Solenex Corp., formed by Sidney Longwell.

In this latest suit, the Solenex Corp. is now claiming Jewell exceeded her authority when she canceled the lease in the waning days of the Obama Administration.

The Badger Two Medicine is part of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and is considered sacred by many members of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Longwell died in 2020, but he held 6,200-plus acre lease since 1982. And since 1982, he’d gone back and forth with various land agencies and administrations on his company’s right to drill there.

At one point, his application to drill was approved, but it was constantly delayed by various federal land agencies, including the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.,

Then in 2015, federal judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C. upheld the lease and gave the agencies 21 days to come up with a plan to allow drilling.

But that never happened. Jewell, in turn, canceled the lease, which is located in the Hall Creek drainage of the 162,000 acre Badger Two Medicine.

Jewell’s decision to cancel the lease was upheld, however, by a federal appeals court.

But now the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which is representing Solenex, has taken a different legal tack — that Jewell never had the authority to cancel the lease in the first place.

“The Court must hold unlawful and set aside the Secretary’s cancellation of the Solenex lease because Congress did not confer on the Secretary the power to cancel the lease … The Secretary exceeded her authority in cancelling the lease. The Secretary did not have explicit statutory authority to cancel the lease; she did not have inherent authority to cancel the lease; she did not have contractual authority to cancel the lease… “ they maintain in a request for summary judgment filed federal court on Dec. 21.

Money could also be an issue, as well.

According to court documents, the government offered about $31,000 to Solenex in refunds when the lease was canceled.

But its lawyers say that’s far too little.

They claims Longwell paid, in inflation adjusted dollars, about $35,000 in rental payments alone in 1982 and ’83.

He also paid, they claim, about $120,000 in legal fees. In addition, they claim another company, American Petrofina, that Longwell once assigned the lease to, spent about $2.4 million in development.

Expenses aside, if the court rules in favor of the company, it could once again open the region up, at least on the 6,200 acres, to oil and gas drilling.

The remaining leases in the Badger Two Medicine have been voluntary relinquished or canceled over the years.

Cancellation of the leases by Jewell was considered a victory by conservation groups and the tribe. The Badger Two Medicine is rife with wildlife and has one the largest elk herds in the area.

It’s a land of large, rolling, grassy hills; a place of subtle, but beautiful contrast to the distinct peaks of Glacier National Park, which is just a couple of miles to the north.

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