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Badger Two-Medicine Dispute Dates To Reagan Era

Solenex well site is the last remaining oil lease in Badger-Two-Medicine.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
The Solenex well site in the Badger-Two Medicine area.

The Blackfeet Tribe and Louisiana company Solenex met Thursday in Great Fall to discuss a 30 -year-old land dispute. On the table between them: the Badger-Two Medicine, a mountainous tract of U.S. Forest Service land flanked by Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Seal of the Blackfeet Nation
Credit Courtesy Blackfeet Nation
The seal of the Blackfeet Nation.

The debate started with Reagan-era oil and gas leases.

In 1982 the Bureau of Land Management issued Solenex a 62-hundred acre lease in the Badger-Two Medicine, for a dollar an acre.

Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice, says that lease, and 47 others, should have never been granted.

“These leases were illegally issued because there was not sufficient environmental review or cultural resources review before the Interior Department issued them to the leaseholders," said Preso.

In 1993 then-Montana Senator Max Baucus introduced the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act that would have prevented any oil and gas development there. The act didn’t pass.

But, also in 1993, then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suspended the remaining leases, and did it again in 1996 to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Since then, most of the Reagan-era leaseholders have taken buyouts, or trades for other leases. Some left the Badger-Two Medicine voluntarily. In 2004 and 2007, the Blackfeet sent leaseholders letters, asking them to give up their development rights.

But Solenex and another company that holds the remaining 18 leases have held on.

Now, the tribe and the National Congress of American Indians are launching a new campaign to prevent any oil or gas drilling. They’re negotiating with Solenex today, urging the Department of Interior to cancel any remaining leases.

Credit Gene Sentz
Two Medicine River near the Hall Creek Trail.

Chief Earl Old Person says The Badger-Two Medicine is the site of the Blackfeet creation stories, and his tribe doesn’t want to see the land drilled in a search for monetary value.

“Money is good. I heard you mention money," said Old Person. "It can do a lot of things. But it’s also bad, dangerous; it can cause us problems and that’s why we are sitting here today. Areas we have lost, we have received something from them. And today that which we received we are still talking about. And so it’s not all just money."

[Editor's note: 09/20/16 we updated the post with a photo from the Solenex lease site and removed a photo that showed Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park, adjacent to the lease site. ]

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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