BILLINGS — A federal judge put a lawsuit over a disputed energy lease near Glacier National Park on hold Thursday until early January, after attorneys for the government and leaseholder said they were seeking to resolve the case outside court.
The Interior Department last month said it plans to cancel the 6,200-acre lease in northwestern Montana that’s owned by Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The lease was granted in 1982 in the Badger-Two Medicine area just south of Glacier — land considered sacred to the Blackfoot tribes of the U.S. and Canada.
Drilling has been held up by repeated bureaucratic delays, prompting Solenex to sue the government in 2013.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said in Thursday’s order that the case would be stayed until Jan. 8. He asked the two sides to come back on or before that date with recommendations on how the case should proceed or whether more time would be needed for negotiations.
Neither side would disclose what issues are being discussed. Solenex’s attorneys have said previously that if the leases are cancelled, their clients would be entitled to compensation.
Attorneys for the government have said the lease was improperly issued, in part because an environmental study did not consider the impact on the tribes of drilling.
The lease is on the site of the creation story for the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. It’s located just west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Dozens more oil and gas leases were initially sold in the area, but over the years, most were retired or surrendered by their owners.
Seventeen remaining leases were not addressed in court filings in which the government said it planned to move quickly to cancel the Solenex lease. Interior officials have not disclosed their plans for the remaining leases.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recommended canceling all the leases in an Oct. 30 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.