Daily Montanan: Final oil and gas lease released in Badger-Two Medicine area, sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe

by Daily Montanan Staff

After a decades-long fight, the final federal oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area was released last week, with no potential for new leases. The area is sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe.

“The settlement agreement rights a fundamental wrong by removing industry’s hold on one of our Nation’s most significant areas,” a press release from the Blackfeet Tribe read.

The release said the tribe is relieved an agreement was met between the leaseholder Solenex, LLC, the U.S. government and conservation partners to retire the last oil and gas lease. The decision, years in the making, was celebrated by federal cabinet members and Montana’s Senate delegation.

“The Badger-Two Medicine is our last refuge. It is a sacred place, a cultural touchstone, a repository of heritage, a living cultural landscape, a hunting ground and a sanctuary for wild nature. It is vital to the people who rely upon it, critical to the wildlife that depends upon it, and has an inherent value and power of its own.”

In a joint press release last week, both the U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture said the final lease being relinquished will help ensure that the natural and cultural resources on the ancestral homelands of the Blackfeet Nation are protected. The company is receiving $2.6 million to relinquish the lease, as reported by ABC News.

The Badger Two-Medicine area, once part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, makes up 130,000 acres in Lewis and Clark National Forest, adjacent to Glacier National Park, two wilderness areas, and the reservation, according to the joint release.

“Although it was ceded in 1896, the Badger-Two Medicine area continues to have cultural and religious significance to the Blackfeet Nation, which has consistently raised concerns about development in the area,” the release read.

The Blackfeet Tribe said the tribe was not consulted when the oil and gas leases were established, and the leases were part of the long history of governments and private interests seeking profit over the tribe’s traditional territories and practices.

“Our community’s welfare was not considered. And yet it fell to us to defend our sovereign treaty rights, our traditional lands and waters, and our cultural survival,” the tribe’s release read. “This agreement to retire the final lease brings to a close a long and painful chapter in the history of our People.”

In 1982, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management issued 47 federal oil and gas leases in the area, but without an environmental impact statement sent in before drilling permits were sent out — leading to years of litigation.

In 2002, a portion of the Badger-Two Medicine area was established as a Traditional Cultural District.

Congress permanently withdrew the entire area from oil and gas leasing, subject to valid existing rights, in 2006, providing tax incentives for existing lessees who voluntarily relinquished their leases. Solenex was the last remaining leaseholder.

In 2016 then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell canceled the lease, which was followed with further litigation – but the lease remained suspended while it was argued in court.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, said in a press release the last lease ending “closes the chapter on development threats to this special place.”

“The Badger-Two Medicine area continues to have cultural and religious significance to the Blackfeet Nation, which has stewarded that land since time immemorial,” said Haaland in a statement. “Oil and gas development would have had irreparable impacts on these sacred homelands.”

Montana’s U.S. Senate delegation applauded the decision.

“I’m glad to see a solution that all parties were able to agree on to ensure this land that holds such significant cultural and spiritual importance to the Blackfeet Nation is protected,” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said in a statement. “I look forward to working on a solution to permanently protect these lands.”

“Badger-Two Medicine is a part of what makes Montana the Last Best Place, and it’s importance to the Blackfeet Tribe, along with its added value to our $7.1 billion outdoor economy, makes it a place we shouldn’t drill or dig,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat in a statement. “After working alongside the Tribe for years to protect this breathtaking area, (the) settlement is great news for the people of Montana and Blackfeet Nation.”