Remaining Badger-Two Medicine Area oil and gas leases canceled

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The U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced it has canceled the last two oil and gas leases remaining in the Badger-Two Medicine Area southeast of Glacier National Park.

The controversial leases were approved, along with dozens of others, by the department in the early 1980s. The nearby Blackfeet Nation has long opposed drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine, a 130,000-acre tract of land considered sacred to the tribe.

“We are proud to have worked alongside the Blackfeet Nation and the U.S. Forest Service throughout this process to roll back decades-old leases and reinforce the importance of developing resources in the right way and the right places,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated in a press release Tuesday. “The cancellation of the final two leases in the rich cultural and natural Badger-Two Medicine Area will ensure it is protected for future generations.”

The Badger-Two Medicine sits nestled between the borders of the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

The Blackfeet argued that the federal government failed to fulfill its legal requirement to review the area’s cultural significance to the tribe when it initially approved drilling on the federal land, which is located within the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

“We’ve lived for 30 years under the threat that it might be industrialized, and we’re extremely grateful that this cloud is finally lifted,” Blackfeet Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This area is like a church to our people, and retiring the last of the leases is a tremendous step toward permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine.”

The area is part of the Blackfeet’s federally recognized Traditional Cultural District, and is the site of their creation story. In 2006, Congress passed legislation withdrawing the area from mineral development.

The move by the Obama Administration follows prior cancellations in 2015, including a settlement with Devon Energy in November in which the company relinquished its 15 leases. In the decades prior, other mineral development companies had relinquished dozens of other leases granted under the administration of former president Ronald Reagan.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also praised the Interior Department’s decision in a statement Tuesday.

“Today marks the end of a decades-long journey for the Blackfeet Tribe and outdoor enthusiasts in northwest Montana,” Tester said in the press release. “The Badger-Two Medicine carries sacred significance and today’s decision guarantees the preservation of this pristine region for generations to come.”

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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