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2024 Montana Primary elections

Landowners, Enviros File Suit Against Federal Energy Leases In Montana

Oil well.
Oil well.

Environmental groups and landowners Tuesday filed a lawsuit to cancel the federal government’s recent sale of almost 300 oil and gas leases on federal land in Montana.

David Katz’s family has owned property along south-central Montana’s Stillwater River near the Beartooth Front for 45 years.

“It’s a small home, but we use entirely well-water," Katz says. "My concern is particularly about that, and about the water in the Stillwater River. It’s important.” 

Katz and two other Montana landowners Tuesday joined environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the Montana Environmental Information Center, to stop the sale of 287 federal oil and gas leases.

The plaintiffs claim the federal Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately study oil and gas drilling’s effects on groundwater sources.

“Water is essential," Katz says. "It’s essential for life. It’s essential for the agriculture and ranching communities, and for recreational communities. We’re concerned that the BLM is making fracking available in those areas and that the ultimate cost will be paid by the residents.”

Plaintiffs also claim the agency did not address how drilling those lands would affect the release of greenhouse gases and climate change.

Katz describes the land along the Beartooth Front as precious and vulnerable.

“Climate change and warming temperatures, droughts, really are already impacting us. Last year we had the closure of the whole Yellowstone River system because of parasites that are very rare, but becoming increasingly common because of warming temperatures. So, we’ve got to protect this land.”

BLM Spokesman AL Nash did not have immediate comment on the lawsuit.

According to the Great Falls Tribune, the suit challenges leases on about 150,000 acres of public lands near Livingston, the Beartooth Front, and one parcel adjacent to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

The legal challenge to the oil and gas leases was brought in Federal District court in Great Falls.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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