Connect with us

Local News

Company receives $2.6 million in exchange for giving up its oil lease on Native American-sacred territory in Montana



Billings, Montana – According to government representatives and attorneys engaged in the transaction, a Louisiana business will receive $2.6 million in exchange for giving up the final remaining oil and gas lease on U.S. forest land close to Montana’s Glacier National Park, which is revered by Native Americans.

The agreement would put an end to a long-running dispute over the oil and gas lease covering a 25-square-kilometer (10-square-mile) tract in northwest Montana’s hilly Badger-Two Medicine region.

Despite being issued in 1982, the lease has not yet been put to use. It is situated where the creation myth for the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and the Blackfeet Nation of Montana was first told. Members of the tribe vehemently opposed drilling.

Solenex LLC will receive $2.6 million as compensation for terminating the contract, according to David McDonald of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the business’s legal counsel. According to McDonald and Wyss spokesman Marnee Banks, the government will provide $2 million and the Wyss Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, would contribute the remaining $625,000.

The Blackfoot tribes and environmental organizations had asked then-U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to revoke the Solenex lease in 2016.

The lease was reinstated, however, by order of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon last year. Leon argued that Jewell lacked the jurisdiction to revoke the lease so many years after it was sold and after a number of earlier studies had looked at the potential effects of drilling in the area on the ecology and other factors.

Leaders of the tribal culture appealed that verdict. According to court records submitted on Friday, the appeal is anticipated to be dismissed after the agreement for Solenex to give up the lease is put into effect, which might take several months.

John Murray, the historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, called the court dispute over the lease a “protracted clash of cultures” and expressed relief that it was concluded.

“The Badger Two Medicine is significant to the Blackfeet way of life from the past, now and in the future,” Murray said. “I am happy to see this oil and gas lease go away in the Badger Two Medicine. We are back to where we were 40 years ago.”

Sidney Longwell, the creator of Solenex, bought the lease but never actually dug a hole there. He passed away in 2020. Instead, Longwell encountered significant bureaucratic delays at the Interior and Agriculture departments of the United States, which spurred the business to file a lawsuit in 2013.

McDonald argued that Leon’s September 2022 decision demonstrated that, absent a lease holder breach of contract, government officials cannot unilaterally terminate oil and gas leases.

“We see this as an extremely favorable outcome,” he said. “The settlement leaves in place Judge Leon’s excellent district court opinion, enshrining the legal principles we fought for in court precedent, and provides for significant compensation for our clients.”

The Badger Two-Medicine lease from 1982 was one of 47 that the Department of Interior granted in that year. Congress removed the area from further leasing in 2006 and gave leaseholders tax benefits, which led to the majority of them giving up their drilling rights willingly.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Friday’s announcement “closes the chapter on development threats to this special place and recognizes the importance of protecting these lands for future generations.”

The Badger Two-Medicine was declared a Traditional Cultural District by the Department of Agriculture in 2014.