Federal officials say they are prepared to cancel a long-suspended oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National park.
Monday’s announcement follows an October court order from a federal judge requiring the Interior Department to make up its mind about lifting suspension of the lease or moving toward cancellation.
The leaseholder is a Louisiana company called Solenex. It sued the government in 2013 to force a decision on the nearly 30-year land dispute.
Solenex attorney William Perry Pendley:
"Well, I’m not surprised. They’ve been making noise like this for some time. Obviously it is a disappointment. We’ve made very clear that we believe that the federal government has zero legal authority to cancel the lease.”
Monday the Interior Department said Solenex’s lease, dating to the Reagan era, was issued without full environmental review and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has the authority to void the lease.
The statement also said when the lease was issued there was failure to consider the impacts of drilling on the cultural and religious values of the land.
The Badger-Two Medicine is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, but is sacred to the Blackfeet tribes of the U.S. and Canada.
Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation officer John Murray:
“This is what we expected. We are just going to sit and wait. We are very confident that Sally Jewell is going to do the right thing. But we don’t know what the judge is going to do. So we are still sitting on the edge of our seat.”
The Interior Department said a final cancellation decision could be made as soon as December 11.
Solenex has 10 days to respond to the Interior department’s decision, which Interior is still calling preliminary at this point. And for any cancellation to happen, a U.S. district court judge would have to agree that Interior does have the authority to cancel the lease.