Senators announce major lease retirements in Flathead watershed

ConocoPhillips joins Baucus and Tester to Protect North Fork Forever

(Washington D.C.)  Montana’s Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester today announced the retirement of the primary interest in nearly 170,000 acres of oil and gas leases to help protect prime outdoor recreation areas in the North Fork of the Flathead River.

At the Senators’ request, ConocoPhillips, the largest leaseholder in the North Fork, decided to voluntarily relinquish its interest in 108 federal oil and gas leases covering approximately 169,000 net acres in the Flathead watershed area of northwest Montana.

“This is a very big deal. I have worked towards this for 35 years, and now we are closer than ever to protecting the Flathead once and for all,” Senator Baucus said. “Conoco Phillips should be commended for this decision and their stewardship of this very unique, special place. Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that every Montanan, every American, and every Canadian who follows us will survey the North Fork and share our feeling of awestruck wonder that such a place still exists.”

“There are just some places that are too valuable to us, to our kids, and to our grandkids to develop,” Tester said.  “The area next to Glacier National Park is one of them.  I’m glad ConocoPhillips recognizes this and is voluntarily returning their leases to help protect this important landscape.  It’s good to have them as a partner in the effort to keep the upper Flathead watershed the way it’s supposed to be.”

The announcement came during a hearing on Baucus and Tester’s North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2010- legislation that will prevent new oil and gas development and mining in the North Fork watershed.  The bill, introduced on March 8th, is in conjunction with similar measures in British Columbia. The moves will put a moratorium on future leases on federal lands in the North Fork of the Flathead Drainage, which borders Glacier National Park.

However, since Baucus and Tester’s measure does not affect leases already held in the area, they are working with energy companies and lease holders to retire existing oil and gas developments.  ConocoPhillips is the full owner of 50 oil and gas leases, and partial owner of 58 additional leases, representing 71 percent of the leased area.

The North Fork of the Flathead and Glacier National Park are a major economic driver in northwestern Montana. Every year, more than two million visitors spend more than $150 million every year in the area.