In a statement reminding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of his “clear commitment to protecting Blackfeet interests in the Badger-Two Medicine,” the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council condemned the late September ruling by a U.S. District Court judge to reinstate an oil and gas lease on land adjacent to Glacier National Park, land that is considered sacred to the Blackfeet tribe.
The ruling handed down by Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 24 overturned the 2016 cancelation of a 10-square-mile lease held by Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, just east of Glacier Park. The lease had been originally canceled by the Interior Department under President Barack Obama, but Leon ruled that action was improper.
In its response to the ruling, BTBC Chairman Tim Davis and Vice Chairman Scott Kipp wrote in a statement on Oct. 5 that the judge’s action “once again threatens our Blackfeet cultural homeland with industrialization.”
“The court opinion goes straight to the heart of the Blackfeet people,” the statement continues. “Driving roads and well pads into the center of our sacred lands, our last cultural refuge, is an unimaginable violation of our people and our way of life. It is a direct assault, and Blackfeet communities will not allow it to pass unchallenged.”
According to the statement, members of the council have already contacted Zinke and requested that his office appeal the decision.
The saga of oil and gas leases in Badger-Two Medicine has been ongoing for more than 30 years since Solenex and others first acquired leases in the area. In that time, the company has not done any drilling on the land, and after decades of bureaucratic delays Solenex sued the federal government in 2013.
Solenex wants to drill for gas in Badger-Two Medicine, and after the cancelation of the lease was overturned last month Solenex attorney Willian Perry Pendley asked President Donald Trump to allow the company to begin that work.
“This is a property right and it’s well settled,” Pendley said following the ruling. “When you get a lease, the government is agreeing you have a right to drill.”
In its statement, Blackfeet council members were unmoved by Pendley’s argument that Solenex has had claim to the land for more than 30 years.
“In his ruling, Judge Leon indicated the leases should stand because the government had waited 35 years before taking action,” they wrote. “The Blackfeet, of course, have waited those same 35 years for resolution. And we were stewards of this land for 35 centuries before that, and another 35 centuries before that, and yet another 35 centuries before that, even. Blackfeet sites in this region have been dated to more than 13,000 years ago, and our connection to the Badger-Two Medicine goes back to the beginnings of time.”
Zinke last year recommended designating the Badger-Two Medicine area as a national monument, but even that action would not bar drilling on the land.
Government officials have not announced whether they plan on appealing the U.S. District Court ruling.