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Drilling lease in the Badger-Two Medicine must be reinstated, judge rules

Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio

Advocates for keeping the Badger-Two Medicine free from oil and gas development say the legal fight over the land is far from over. This comes after a federal judge last week reinstated a decades-old lease on the land that’s sacred to the Blackfeet Nation.

Washington, D.C., District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the U.S. Interior Department to reinstate Solenex’s lease in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, which was first issued in the 1980s. The federal government canceled the lease six years ago saying it was issued illegally. Leon in his ruling said the government didn’t have the authority to cancel it.

The lease is on undeveloped land considered the cultural homeland of the Blackfeet Nation. Blackfeet Historical Preservation Officer John Murray is one of the intervenors in the case.

"The fight is far from over," he said. "The Badger-Two Medicine will remain the way it is today."

Courtesy Montana Wilderness Association

The Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance also said in a statement it would fight the ruling, although the alliance and other groups have not yet said when they may appeal.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation, which is representing lease holder Solenex, says it will be ready to defend the ruling if appealed. The Interior Department declined to comment on the case.

The Solenex lease was one of more than 40 oil and gas leases that were issued in the Badger-Two Medicine and is the last remaining lease on that land. Others were either voluntarily relinquished, canceled by the Interior Department or retired through private settlements.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.