Advisory Council Says Badger-Two Medicine Too Sacred To Drill

Council rules that energy exploration incompatible with Blackfeet Traditional Cultural District

By Tristan Scott
The Rocky Mountain Front, as seen from U.S. Highway 15 near Great Falls on Sept. 19, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

An independent federal agency that oversees the preservation of historic places says energy exploration on the Badger-Two Medicine would degrade the region’s cultural values.

The recommendation to withdraw energy leases in the area adjacent to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park comes on the heels of a Sept. 2 meeting held by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in Choteau.

The meeting featured overwhelming support for the withdrawal of leases on the Badger-Two Medicine, an area with cultural and ecological linkages to the Blackfeet Nation and Glacier Park.

In its comments to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, submitted Sept. 21, the ACHP wrote: “If implemented, the Solenex exploratory well along with the reasonably foreseeable full field development would be so damaging to the TCD [Traditional Cultural District] that the Blackfeet Tribe’s ability to practice their religious and cultural traditions in this area as a living part of their community life and development would be lost. The cumulative effects of full field development, even with the mitigation measures proposed by Solenex, would result in serious and irreparable degradation of the historic values of the TCD that sustain the tribe. If necessary, the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture, should seek authorizations from Congress to withdraw or cancel the Solenex lease.”

Blackfeet tribal leaders have uniformly opposed drilling in the area.

Also joining the Blackfeet in opposing industrialization of the Badger are the National Congress of American Indians, 18 other tribes from western states, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock, all three Glacier County Commissioners, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and six former Glacier Park superintendents.

Prior to issuing its recommendation, the ACHP’s five-member panel held a hearing to gather public input.

Such public hearings are extremely rare, according to chairman Wayne Donaldson. The ACHP receives about 120,000 cases a year, but most of the time the parties reach an agreement. This was only the third hearing he’s held since 2010.

More than 150 people attended the hearing in Choteau, and of the 50 who offered testimony, the lone proponent of drilling was the lawyer representing Solenex, the Louisiana-based company pushing to open the Badger to industrial development.

In his testimony, he argued that mitigating damage to the Badger was possible, and suggested that the company could refrain from drilling on the weekends.

Dale Fenner, who works for the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, was present at the hearing.

“The diversity of people who attended the hearing, from Blackfeet tribal members to folks who drove hours from all over the state to be there, demonstrates that the Badger-Two Medicine is beloved by people from all walks of life and for a variety of reasons,” Fenner said. “What all of these people have in common is the conviction that drilling in the Badger should never occur.”

Located adjacent to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Badger-Two Medicine area is the spiritual homeland of the Blackfeet Tribe and provides key roadless habitat for sensitive wildlife. The entire 165,588-acre area (encompassing lands within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Lewis and Clark National Forest and Flathead National Forest) is a designated Traditional Cultural District (TCD) under the National Historic Preservation Act.

“The Badger-Two Medicine leases were illegally issued in the first place and should be canceled for that reason alone, but now the ACHP has made clear that lease cancellation is also the only means of protecting the unique cultural importance of the threatened lands for the Blackfeet people,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The government should do the right thing and cancel these leases.”

Recently, both the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management made clear that significant questions persist regarding the validity of Solenex’s lease. The federal land management agencies have indicated that they are considering the option of lease cancellation, and have set a schedule to determine whether cancelation is warranted.

Kendall Flint, President of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, lives within hiking distance of the proposed well site.

Of the ACHP’s recommendations, he said: “I have lived near the Badger long enough to know that there is no way to mitigate a four-acre well pad, a road, and industrial development in the heart of this wild and roadless country. That could only be the beginnings for oil and gas, and would forever scar this glorious landscape and all that goes with it.  We stand in solidarity with the Blackfeet and call for the cancellation of these illegal leases.”

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