A federal judge has given Interior Secretary Sally Jewell three weeks to take action on a Louisiana company’s natural gas leases near Glacier National Park that have been held up for 29 years.
Louisiana-based Solenex LLC holds leases to explore for gas on 6,200 acres on federal public land in the Badger-Two Medicine area that is held sacred by the Blackfeet tribes of Montana and Canada.
The leases have been held up since 1985 as several federal agencies sought time to review them under various federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act. President Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suspended the leases in the mid-1990s.
Today Judge Richard Leon said, quote, "no combination of excuses could possibly justify such ineptitude or recalcitrance for such an epic period of time!" The judge said he "could not find … a single example where agency action was as egregiously delayed as the 29 years at issue here."
Leon ordered the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service to come up with an accelerated timetable and specific list of tasks to accomplish to clear up the issue of the leases. He said that timetable and list must be filed within 21 days.
But Judge Leon denied Solenex’s request that the suspension be lifted immediately so the company can drill a test well on their lease on the Rocky Mountain Front just southeast of Glacier National park.
Earlier this month the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana pulled out of talks with the U.S. Forest Service that aimed to find a compromise. The tribe’s position is that drilling should not be allowed in the area under any circumstances.