The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation held a meeting in Choteau Wednesday evening on proposed drilling on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area. The council is trying to understand how and if the exploration for natural gas can comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.
Wayne Donaldson is Chairman of the Advisory Council.
"I want to stress that the purpose of the meeting is to obtain input on effects the proposed drilling and associated activities on historic properties, and any possible steps that could be taken to avoid, reduce, or mitigate adverse effects," Donaldson said.
The Advisory Council will pass the information gathered in the hearing to the Secretary of Agriculture by September 21.
The Agriculture Secretary will then pass a larger report onto the Department of the Interior, which will decide if the natural gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine should be canceled, or how drilling can begin while minimizing the impacts to land.
Although the loudest voices in the opposition to drilling have come from the Blackfeet Tribe who see the land as sacred, other residents of northwest Montana showed up at the meeting to protest the oil and gas leases. About 50 people came to the meeting. Among the 30 who spoke were Michael Jamison, with the National Park Conservation Association.
"The reality is that we are being compromised and being mitigated to death," Jamison said. "It’s a one-way street. We transfer and transform open-faced lands into residential and commercial lands, but we never ever transfer residential neighborhoods back into open space. We never turn a well site into a sacred site."
John Weaver is a Senior Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
"The Badger-Two Medicine is, as you can see on this map, a critical and strategic component of a much larger landscape known as the crown of the continent ecosystem And the Badger-Two Medicine is the heart of that superlative landscape of international value."
Retired Forest Service biologists, university professors, longtime residents, a state senator, and lawyers stepped before the advisory council to urge the cancellation of the leases.
Tim Preso works for Earth Justice.
"You’ve come here to an amazing place. I know your hearings are rare, but his one must be especially rare because you sit on the edge of one our country's last great undeveloped spaces; a tract of largely undeveloped public land stretching from the Canadian border to McDonald Pass, that contains almost all of its native fauna intact. And as the events we’ve already seen today demonstrate is the home not only to historical, but a living cultural overlay that is extremely rare in our world today. And this whole undeveloped space is an increasingly rare commodity in our crowded and developed world."
Speakers overwhelmingly opposed any drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine.
The one voice arguing for the oil and gas leases was Mountain States Legal Foundation lawyer Steve Lechner. Lechner says his client Solenex LLC has waited long enough use its Permit to Drill in the Badger-Two Medicine.
"There in the north where the well is located, that area has already been disturbed by human activities and modern developments – the railroad, the highway, power lines, forest roads and trails, communication towers. Moreover, at most, Solenex’s activities would disturb 23 acres of the 165,000 acre TCD. This is 0.014 percent."
TCD stands for traditional cultural district.
The Interior department says it will decide to either cancel the leases or start developing a plan for drilling on November 30.
On Tuesday, Solenex's lawyers asked a judge to reject the government's timeline on that decision.