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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jun 16 2020

A Lease-Free Badger

Appeals court upholds cancellation of last remaining oil and gas lease in Badger-Two Medicine

It’s a saga that started almost 40 years ago. Today a chapter in that saga came to a conclusion that is cause for celebration, as a federal appeals court upheld the cancellation of the last remaining oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine. 

Nestled between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the Badger-Two Medicine is the cradle of Blackfeet culture and a vital home to grizzly bears, Canada lynx, Westslope cutthroat trout, and all other species that make the Crown of the Continent one of the wildest regions in the Lower 48.

The lease at issue in today’s court ruling, held by Louisiana-based Solenex, LLC, was one of dozens that the federal government issued in the early 1980s in the Badger-Two Medicine. Most leaseholders later voluntarily retired those leases in recognition that this area was too culturally and ecologically significant to be industrialized. The largest leaseholder, Devon Energy, held out until 2016, when it too voluntarily relinquished its leases, stating “it was the right thing to do.”

The leases that remained were canceled by the Interior Department in 2016 and 2017 in recognition that the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and other bedrock environmental laws when the department issued the leases in the 1980s. The department also determined that the leases had “failed to comport with the national policy to protect and preserve the rights of American Indians to exercise traditional religions, including access to important sites.” 

Solenex and another company, Moncrief Oil and Gas Matter, LLC challenged the cancellation of their leases in a Washington, D.C. district court. In 2017, the court ruled in favor of both companies.

The Interior Department appealed, with MWA and our conservation partners joining as intervenors in support of the department’s cancellation of the leases. But in 2019, the Interior Department announced that it would no longer defend its cancellation of the Moncrief lease. Fortunately, Moncrief Oil and Gas Master, LLC and the Wilderness Society reached an out-of-court settlement resulting in the permanent retirement of the Moncrief lease.

That left one last lease in the Badger – the Solenex lease. As of today, the lease does not pose a threat. In upholding the Interior Department's cancellation of the lease, the federal appeals court remanded the decision back to the district court, requiring that it take into account the appeals court’s findings that the cancellation of the lease was legal.

Ever since the federal government riddled the Rocky Mountain Front and the Badger-Two Medicine with oil and gas leases during the Reagan administration, MWA has played a seminal role in protecting this part of the state that the Blackfeet and other Montanans revere.

In recent years, we’ve proudly stood by our tribal partners in seeing the last of the leases put where they should be – on the ash heap of history.

Of course, our work to protect the Badger could not have been done without the hundreds of members and supporters who have traveled this journey with us over the years and decades and invested their time and money into this monumental effort. We can’t thank you enough. 

But the work to protect the Badger isn’t done. We still need Congress to pass legislation that will bring permanent protection to the area, and that’s where our work in the Badger now lies.

Please consider investing in that work to ensure that no industrial development ever comes to this one-of-a-kind place.

If you’d like more information about our work to protect the Badger or if you would like to become involved in that work, feel free to contact me at zangstead@wildmontana.org.

Zach Angstead
Central Montana Field Director

Zach graduated from Montana State University with a degree in both ecology and political science. Since graduation, he has worked on big game habitat improvement, bat conservation, and public land issues. When he isn’t working you can find Zach hiking, fishing, camping with his family, and caving to explore Montana underground.
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