Former superintendents of Glacier National Park recently submitted a letter in support of canceling leases for oil and gas exploration in the Badger-Two Medicine. The Montana Petroleum Association has supported the leaseholder by filing an amicus curiae brief and attending meetings to discuss mitigation through an open dialogue with the Tribe.
“For more than 30 years, oil and gas companies have sought to exploit the Badger-Two Medicine for energy production,” said the superintendents, who are only now chiming in at the height of the controversy’s exposure. Their position aligns perfectly with federal land management agencies’ interest in limiting development of more and more land across the country.
At each of the meetings of consulting parties over the last three years, the leaseholder and advocates of Sidney Longwell’s rights extended opportunities to the Tribe to work together. Through the same process, conflicting interests have been able to reach agreements that balance environmental integrity and land development all across the country, however, practicable solutions like these have begun to take the backseat to outright bans and restrictions to land use.
Longwell, owner of Solenex, has been fighting for his legal right to use a drilling permit the Forest Service and BLM alike have previously approved, on a lease which he legally obtained.
The first approved application for a permit to drill (APD) was granted in 1985 by the BLM. In 1987, the BLM issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” and reapproved the lease. Then, in 1991, following a joint Decision of Record by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM approving the APD based on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the BLM approved the APD. Finally, in 1993, the Solenex received a fourth approval of the APD, which was signed by the assistant Secretary of the Interior.
Legal challenges and congressional suspensions have waylaid development for more than two decades. Meanwhile, the boundaries of the Badger-Two Medicine Traditional Cultural District where the Solenex lease rests have been expanded, following four ethnographic studies. The area has grown from 90,000 acres to more than 165,000 acres, making it one of the largest TCDs in the country. It should be noted that the Solenex lease area was not incorporated into the TCD until the latest ethnographic study (2010), which was heavily redacted, concealing justification for the expansion from the public, and essentially stonewalling the leaseholder in meetings to discuss alternative development strategies.
In October 2003, prior to the expansion of the TCD boundaries, the Forest Service announced that although the lease site was offset from the boundaries of the originally defined TCD, a study would be required to ascertain whether drilling activity (visual, audible) would “affect the qualities that contribute to the significance of the TCD;” essentially, conducting studies to determine whether or not the lease site was an Area of Potential Effect on the TCD. That study concluded that drilling on the site would not affect the TCD.
In their Determination of Adverse Effects, the Forest Service sites a disturbance area between 14.18 and 22.91 acres. This represents an impact area of approximately .014 percent within the TCD.
Considering the entirety of the TCD, the lease area exists within the most disturbed area. A Forest Service report states that modern disturbances are present in some areas. The northern periphery of the district is affected by the noise and visual intrusions of the Great Northern Railroad, Montana Highway 2, several utility lines, the Summit Campground, the Roosevelt Monument, and various private property developments – all located along a travel corridor that separates the Badger-Two Medicine TCD from Glacier National Park. There are also two electronic communication sites located on Mount Baldy and Half Dome Crag peaks in the eastern portion of the TCD. A Forest Service administrative site, Badger Cabin, is located roughly in the center of the TCD and numerous Forest System trails are interspersed throughout the TCD.
Conveniently, though, opponents have found their way around those facts in order to strip Mr. Longwell of his legal rights, with the former superintendents calling energy development in the Badger-Two Medicine “an intolerable assault” on the values of the Park and the Blackfeet people.
Stripping a man, who’s followed every letter of the law for more than 30 years, of his legal rights, that is an intolerable assault. And someone has got to see through the smoke and mirrors to stand with him in his fight.
Dave Galt is executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association
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