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Judge reinstates oil and gas lease in Badger-Two Medicine

| September 14, 2022 7:15 AM

By CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

A federal judge has reinstated an oil and gas lease held by the Solenex Corporation in the Badger-Two Medicine region.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in a scathing opinion called the government’s actions “Kafkaesque” in its attempts to squash the lease over nearly 40 years.

In his ruling, Leon vacated a 2016 move by then Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to cancel the Solenex lease on 6,200 acres near Marias Pass, a few miles south of Glacier National Park on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Earlier this year, the Solenex Corp. represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, filed suit, claiming Jewell exceeded her authority when she canceled the lease in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Leon, in his Sept. 9 ruling, found the lease was granted legally and had gone through the proper environmental reviews.

The Badger-Two Medicine is considered sacred by many members of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Louisiana oilman Sidney Longwell owned Solonex. He died in 2020, and held 6,200-plus acre lease since 1982. His family maintains ownership today and continued the legal battle. Since 1985, the Longwells have gone back and forth with various land agencies and administrations on Solenex’s right to drill.

In 1985, the 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.

The government, Leon noted, even did a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement on the lease (and many others in the region at the time). By doing so, it further validated the lease itself, Leon found.

Leon in his 36-page ruling, picks apart the government’s case against the lease on several fronts, but most notably finds that it simply overextended its authority under federal law.

“For the reasons given above, it is time to put an end to this interminable, and insufferable, bureaucratic chess match,” he opined, calling the government’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

As such, Leon remanded the case back to the Secretary of Interior to reinstate the lease and the previously approved application to drill.

But conservation groups and the Blackfeet Tribe both vow to continue to fight.

“It’s just more of the same from people who refuse to consult with the Blackfeet Nation about the industrialization of our last cultural refuge,” John Murray, Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. “We’ve lived under this kind of reckless threat to our sacred lands for decades, and we will never surrender to roads and drill rigs in the Badger-Two Medicine.”  

“We have had to overcome many setbacks throughout this nearly forty-year effort to prevent irresponsible energy development from these ecologically and culturally vital lands,” Peter Metcalf, executive director of the Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, an advocacy group for the region said. “Yet despite the immense obstacles, we’ve managed to prevent any development and retire 46 other leases. The narrative is clearly trending toward protecting the Badger-Two Medicine and I’m confident we will ultimately eliminate this final lease too.”

Of the 165,000 acres that encompasses the Badger-Two Medicine region, nearly all of the 200 or so leases that were sold in the region over the decades by the federal government have been bought out or relinquished voluntarily and a law passed several years ago bans the sale of any new leases.

Motorized use has also been banned in the region as well.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation heralded the ruling.

“Were very pleased with the decision,” attorney David McDonald said.

But it also concedes the case could be appealed again.

McDonald said the family will continue to pursue drilling on the lease.

“They’re still committed to developing the lease,” he said. “Solenex was done a deep injustice.”

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