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Judge Sets Nov. 23 Deadline For Badger-Two Medicine Lease Decision

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

A U.S. District Court judge today gave the federal government until November 23 to decide whether a Louisiana company can drill for oil and gas on National Forest land in the Badger Two-Medicine area adjacent to Glacier National Park.

The land is considered sacred by the Blackfeet tribes, but is not on the Blackfeet reservation.

The Louisiana-based company Solenex has been trying to drill there since 1982. It was granted a federal lease to do so, but then the government said it needed time to determine whether the lease had been illegally issued. That was 17 years ago, and in 2013 Solenex sued for a decision.

This summer Judge Richard Leon chastised the Interior Department for the long delay, and ordered it to produce a timeline for a decision. Today, Judge Leon rejected the timeline Interior proposed, saying it could potentially draw out the process for another two years.

Leon said the government also lacked rationale for for some of its proposed steps forward.

Judge Leon said the government has to decide whether to cancel the lease by November 23. If the agency doesn’t cancel the lease, Leon says it has to then come up with an accelerated schedule to resolve any outstanding issues before actual drilling can begin. Whatever the decision, Leon has given Solenex until December 4 to respond.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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