Landmark Deal Terminates Penultimate Energy Lease on Badger-Two Medicine

Blackfeet leaders celebrate as settlement with Moncrief Oil removes one of two remaining oil leases near Glacier National Park

By Tristan Scott
The Badger-Two Medicine area near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on May 6, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Leaders of the Blackfeet Nation on Tuesday celebrated another victory in their mission to furnish permanent protections on the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area after Moncrief Oil relinquished an energy lease spanning more than 7,000 acres along the Rocky Mountain Front.

With the announcement of the relinquishment of Moncrief’s lease, there remains only one oil and gas leaseholder in the Badger Two Medicine area, Solenex LLC. The company’s 6,200-acre lease was cancelled by the government in 2016, but reinstated in 2018 after the D.C. District Court ruled in favor of Solenex. The case is currently in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Still, the news on Tuesday prompted an outpouring of gratitude from members of the Blackfeet Nation, for whom the Badger-Two Medicine carries deep historical and cultural significance, as well as from conservation groups intent on preserving the area’s ecological heritage.

“Ever since the Badger-Two Medicine was leased for oil and gas exploration in the 1980s, we have been fighting this threat to our sacred lands,” Tim Davis, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, stated in a press release, thanking Hansjorg Wyss and the Wyss Foundation for facilitating an out-of-court settlement that allows the Moncrief lease to be permanently retired.

“Protecting this beautiful area is a victory for the Blackfeet and for all of America,” Davis added.

The Badger-Two Medicine is home not only to the cradle of the Blackfeet creation story, but also to a range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, wolverine, elk, and cutthroat trout. It serves as a primary migratory corridor, connecting the wilderness to the park and the rolling prairie to the rugged alpine peaks of Glacier Park.

It is also the headwaters of two drainages, Badger Creek and the South Fork Two Medicine River. Together, the two drainages water the reservation and the northern plains of Montana.

According to a statement from Moncrief, the lease holders took the region’s wild properties into consideration in reaching the deal.

“Moncrief Oil recognizes the value of wilderness areas and always endeavors to protect the wilderness and preserve the wildlife that lives in and roams these areas,” according to the statement. “Even though Moncrief Oil believes that this valuable oil and gas lease could have been developed while protecting and even benefiting the wilderness, the sensitivity to this special area outweighs development, and therefore has agreed to relinquishment of the lease to the federal government after the prior proper ruling by the court.”

The 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine is a federally recognized Traditional Cultural District that provides critical wildlife habitat for species including grizzly bears, elk, and wolverines while offering opportunities for hunting and backcountry recreation.

The area was originally leased for oil and gas exploration in the early 1980s over the objection of local citizens and without legally sufficient environmental review or consultation with the Blackfeet Nation. The retired 7,640-acre lease had been owned by the Texas-based Moncrief Oil and Gas Master, LLC since 1989. Its retirement continues a long trend of companies voluntarily relinquishing their leases in recognition of the areas outstanding ecological and cultural heritage. The latest retirement leaves only one lease left in the Badger-Two Medicine, a 6,247-acre leased owned by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC at Hall Creek.

The federal government previously canceled Solenex’s lease as well as the now-retired lease of Moncrief Oil. Both companies challenged this decision in federal district court and in 2018 the court ordered both leases reinstated. Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, the Pikuni Traditionalists Association, Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association have appealed those decisions to the D.C. Circuit Court.

The retirement announcement leaves only the litigation involving the Solenex lease ongoing. Unlike every other company, Blackfeet leaders said, Solenex has so far shown no willingness to seek a fair, out-of-court settlement.

“We will see the last of the Badger-Two Medicine leases retired, and we will permanently protect our traditional lands,” John Murray, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Blackfeet Nation, said. “There are just some places that are too special, too important to drill and the Badger-Two Medicine is clearly one of them.”