Ground Truth: Dispatch

Badger-Two Medicine Gains Protection

November 18, 2016 — A wide, wild swath of land in Montana sacred to the Blackfeet Nation gained protection from oil and gas drilling this week when Department of Interior officials canceled 15 energy exploration leases.

The Badger-Two Medicine area spans 132,000 acres on the Lewis and Clark National Forest,  adjacent to Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Reservation. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife and is the locus of the Blackfeet’s creation story.

In 1982, Reagan administration officials approved several dozen leases in the area, allowing energy companies to explore for oil and gas. That move sparked a decades-long battle pitting conservationists and the Blackfeet tribe against the federal government and the companies holding the leases.

Officials with the George W. Bush administration encouraged negotiations to terminate those leases. Of 81 leases in the area, just 17 remained. This week’s action leaves only two potentially valid leases in the area. Federal officials are working to cancel those, too.

“It should not have been leased to begin with,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. “This sets the right tone for how business should be done in the future.”

Oklahoma-based Devon Energy owned the leases that were canceled this week. The company’s president, David Hager, called terminating the leases “the right thing to do.”

Interior officials said the original leases were signed without proper environmental review and without sufficient consultation with the Blackfeet.

Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, praised the action.

“Our pursuit to protect the Badger-Two Medicine has lasted more than three decades, and it will continue until all the illegal oil and gas leases are canceled and the area is permanently protected,” Barnes said.