U.S. of­fi­cials can­cel en­ergy leases in sa­cred area

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Matthew Brown

BILLINGS, MONT. >> U.S. of­fi­cials are can­cel­ing 15 oil and gas leases in an area bor­der­ing Glacier Na­tional Park that’s con­sid­ered sa­cred to the Black­foot tribes of the U.S. and Canada, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell said Wed­nes­day.

The can­cel­la­tion was aimed at pre­serv­ing the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area, the site of the creation story for mem­bers of Mon­tana’s Black­feet Na­tion and the Black­foot tribes of Canada.

“It should not have been leased to be­gin with,” Jewell said dur­ing an an­nounce­ment at her agency’s head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “This sets the right tone for how busi­ness should be done in the fu­ture.”

In­te­rior of­fi­cials have said the leases were is­sued more than three decades ago with­out proper con­sul­ta­tions with tribal lead­ers. An­other en­ergy lease in the same area was can­celed by fed­eral of­fi­cials ear­lier this year.

De­tails on the can­cel­la­tion were ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press in ad­vance of the an­nounce­ment.

The move comes amid some­times-vi­o­lent protests over an oil pipe­line be­ing built near the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion in North Dakota. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been crit­i­cized by some Amer­i­can In­di­ans for its han­dling of that dis­pute, and fed­eral of­fi­cials have sought to re­duce ten­sions by say­ing they would con­sider rerout­ing the pipe­line.

Black­feet Tribal Chair­man Harry Barnes said the pipe­line dis­pute has re­in­forced the need for closer co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the U.S. and na­tive tribes.

“Hey, this ain’t work­ing. How do we find a bet­ter way to con­sult with the abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and in­hab­i­tants?” Barnes said as he stood be­side Jewell on Wed­nes­day. “The Black­feet tribe has never been op­posed to oil and gas ex­plo­ration. We are op­posed to oil and gas ex­plo­ration on our sa­cred sites.”

The 15 oil and gas leases were is­sued in the early 1980s and held by Devon En­ergy.

No drilling has oc­curred and the can­cel­la­tion was made in co­op­er­a­tion with the Ok­la­homa-based com­pany.

Devon Pres­i­dent David Hager said the can­cel­la­tion “was the right thing to do.” It en­ti­tles the com­pany to a re­fund of about $200,000 for fees as­so­ci­ated with the lease pur­chase.

Mon­tana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said the com­pany de­served credit for its will­ing­ness to re­lin­quish the leases in an area that’s prime habi­tat for griz­zly bears, bighorn sheep, elk and other wildlife.

In March, fed­eral of­fi­cials can­celed a 6,200-acre lease in the Badger-TwoMedicine that was held by Solenex LLC. The Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, com­pany has been seek­ing to drill for gas in the area for the past sev­eral years. It has chal­lenged the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Two oil and gas leases re­main in the area.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials plan to ad­dress the re­main­ing leases but have been un­able to con­tact their own­ers, In­te­rior spokes­woman Amanda De­groff said.

Ef­forts to can­cel those leases would con­tinue, Barnes said.

This story has been cor­rected to lo­cate reser­va­tion as be­ing in North Dakota.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

n this Nov. 7, 2013, photo, a train hauls oil into Glacier Na­tional Park near the Badger-Two Medicine Na­tional For­est in north­west Mon­tana. U.S. of­fi­cials said they’ve can­celed 15 oil and gas leases in an area bor­der­ing Glacier Na­tional Park that’s con­sid­ered sa­cred to the Black­foot tribes of the U.S. and Canada. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell said the Wed­nes­day, Nov. 16, 2016, move will pre­serve the 130,000acre Badger-Two Medicine area within the Lewis and Clark Na­tional For­est. The Badger-Two Medicine is the site of the creation story for mem­bers of Mon­tana’s Black­feet Na­tion and the Black­foot tribes of Canada.

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