BILLINGS — A Louisiana company is asking a judge to resolve its lawsuit challenging the government’s suspension of an oil and gas lease near Montana’s Glacier National Park so the company can begin drilling this summer.
The 6,200-acre lease is on land sacred to the Blackfoot tribes of the U.S. and Canada.
It was suspended by the U.S. Interior Department in the 1990s along with dozens of other leases in the area.
Over the years, most of the leases were retired or surrendered, and now only 18 remain, covering more than 40,000 acres in the Badger-Two Medicine area south of Glacier.
Lease owner Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge requested in a recent court filing that U.S. District Judge Richard Leon expedite the company’s lawsuit.
If drilling doesn’t commence by August, Solenex must wait another year to begin the work because of restrictions on when it can drill, according to the company’s attorney, Steven Lechner with the Mountain States Legal Foundation.
“Time is of the essence,” Lechner said. He added that the company has only a five-month window each year in which it can drill under the terms of its permit approved more than 22 years ago.
Blackfoot leaders want Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to cancel the lease and 17 others that have been suspended.
Badger-Two Medicine area is the home of the creation story of the four Blackfoot tribes in Canada and Montana, and the Sun Dance that is central to their religion. The land is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest but is not on the Blackfeet Reservation.
Blackfeet tribal historic preservation officer John Murray said the prior cancellation of other leases in the area set a precedent for Interior officials to withdraw the remaining leases, because of insufficient environmental studies.
But Murray said he does not expect a decision by Jewell while the lawsuit is pending in federal court.