U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Associated Press today that the federal government plans to appeal a federal court ruling allowing oil and gas drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine area outside Glacier National Park.
The Badger-Two Medicine is the site of the creation story for the Blackfoot Tribes, and is located on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation.
In September a federal judge reinstated drilling rights on a nearly 10 square mile lease in the area. The Obama administration voided those leases, originally granted by the Reagan administration.
Zinke asked government attorneys to appeal the September ruling, saying it would be inappropriate to allow drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine.
Terry Tatsey is a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, which strongly opposes oil and gas drilling there. He says he is grateful for the Interior Department’s support.
“I feel they understand the importance of the area to the Blackfeet people and the integrity of that place.”
An appeal will pit Zinke's agency against an oil and gas company's development plans — a relatively uncommon position for the pro-energy Trump administration.
Lease owner Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had urged Zinke to uphold its drilling rights.
William Perry Pendley with the Mountain States Legal Foundation represents Solenex in the case.
“I’m very disappointed. What Secretary Zinke, by asking the court to overturn that, is simply saying the Secretary wants the authority to cancel any lease, anywhere, for any reason,” he says.
Solenex has held the lease for more than 30 years. It has not yet drilled because of numerous bureaucratic delays within the U.S. departments of Interior and Agriculture that prompted the company to sue in 2013.
The Badger-Two Medicine area is part of the Rocky Mountain Front, a scenic expanse of forested mountains that's been subject to a long campaign to block oil and gas development and mining.
Congress in 2006 provided tax breaks and other incentives that prompted 29 leaseholders to relinquish their drilling rights, but some leaseholders declined the offers. Fifteen leases in the area were given up voluntarily by Devon Energy in 2016, and the government later canceled what had been the last two leases in the area.