Feds Cancel Energy Leases in Blackfeet Tribal Land

The South Fork of the Two Medicine River flows toward the plains from the Badger-Two Medicine area on the Rocky Mountain Front near Glacier National Park. (David Reese)
The South Fork of the Two Medicine River flows toward the plains from the Badger-Two Medicine area on the Rocky Mountain Front near Glacier National Park. (David Reese)

By DAVID REESE

(CN) – After more than 30 years, Devon Energy will get a refund on money paid for oil and gas leases in Montana following the federal government’s decision Wednesday to cancel the leases.

Devon purchased interests in federal leases for oil and gas development in Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front in the 1980s. The U.S. Department of Interior rescinded those federal leases in the pristine Badger-Two Medicine area on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and cancellation of the leases entitles Devon to a refund for all rents and bonus bids paid – about $200,000, according to an Interior Department statement.

The Badger-Two Medicine is a 130,000-acre area along the Rocky Mountain Front in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, next to Glacier National Park. The Blackfeet Tribe considers the Badger-Two Medicine a sacred area.

In 2002 roughly two-thirds of the Badger-Two Medicine area — almost 90,000 acres — had been declared eligible under the National Historic Preservation Act for listing as a Traditional Cultural District in the National Register of Historic Places. Congress withdrew the area from mineral development in 2006.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made the announcement of the federal lease cancellation on Wednesday, along with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes and Devon Energy president David Hager.

“Today’s action honors the Badger-Two Medicine area’s rich cultural and natural resources and will ensure it is protected for future generations,” Jewell said in a statement. “We are proud to have worked alongside the Blackfeet Nation, U.S. Forest Service and Devon Energy to achieve this important milestone, rolling back decades-old leases and reinforcing the importance of developing resources in the right ways and the right places.”

“There are special places in this world where we just shouldn’t drill, and the Badger-Two Medicine is one of those places,” Tester said in a statement. “This region carries great cultural and historical significance to the Blackfeet Tribe and today’s announcement will ensure that the Badger-Two Medicine will remain pristine for both the Tribe and the folks who love to hunt, hike, and fish near Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.”

Because the Devon Energy leases were never developed, the area remains undisturbed by energy development. After Wednesday’s announcement, only two leases remain in the area.