Environment | Law

Judge upset with delay in drilling dispute affecting sacred land






Badger Creek in the Badger-Two Medicine Area in Montana. Photo from Blackfeet Nation

A federal judge ordered the Obama administration to explain what it plans to do about energy development in an area sacred to the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.

Solenex LLC has been waiting to drill for oil and gas in the Badger-Two Medicine Area for more than 30 years. Judge Richard J. Leon said there's no reasonable explanation for the delay.

"No combination of excuses could possibly justify such ineptitude or recalcitrance for such an epic period of time," Leon wrote in a six-page decision on Monday.

But rather than allow Solenex to start work, Leon is giving the federal government one last chance to take action. He ordered the Obama administration to come up with a schedule "for the orderly, expeditious resolution of the decision whether to lift the suspension" of the company's drilling lease.

"We've been stopped for 32 years. We have a valid permit, and our client has the right to go and drill," William Perry Pendley, an attorney who represents Solonex, said in a press release.

The Blackfeet Nation opposes energy development in the Badger-Two Medicine Area near the reservation. The lease at issue was approved by the Reagan administration without consulting the tribe.

“The tribe will never let any drilling go ahead,” Chairman Harry Barnes told the Associated Press. “We’ve fought it for too long, and we’re going to continue to fight it.”

Leon gave the government 21 days from Monday to submit the plan. Barnes believes the judge's order could lead to an outright cancellation of Solonex's lease.

Badger-Two Medicine falls within the Lewis and Clark National Forest and was covered by an agreement signed by the tribe in 1896. Tribal leaders say they only meant to lease the land to the government for 99 years and are seeking the return of the land.

Get the Story:
Judge Orders Fast-Track Review of Glacier-Area Energy Lease (AP 7/27)
Judge Orders Fast-Track Review Of Badger-Two Medicine Gas Leases (Montana Public Radio 7/27)

Some Opinions:
Tyson Running Wolf: Blackfeet Tribe thanks Tester, Ament (The Missoulian 7/24)
Casey Perkins: Why all of Indian country is fighting a new Montana oil well (High Country News 7/22)

Related Stories:
Blackfeet Nation reiterates opposition to drilling on sacred land (07/10)
Blackfeet Nation to honor Sen. Tester for sacred site support (06/25)
Judge questions delay in drilling on Blackfeet Nation sacred site (06/17)
Judge to hear arguments in Blackfeet Nation sacred site dispute (6/9)
Blackfeet Nation launches campaign to ban drilling at sacred site (04/23)
Blackfeet Nation opposes energy development on sacred lands (03/30)