Friday, March 04, 2016

Court to decide if feds have authority to cancel oil and gas lease on Native American land

A decades-long battle between Native Americans and oil and natural-gas developers in northwest Montana could soon be decided in federal court. At stake is land outside Glacier National Monument—an ancestral home of the Blackfeet tribe known as the Badger-Two Medicine and the site of 18 oil and gas leases that have been in limbo for more than 30 years, Corin Cates-Carney reports for NPR. (Blackfeet Nation map)

In the early 1980s, Louisiana-based Solenex leased more than 6,000 acres of national-forest land in the area from the Bureau of Land Management for a dollar an acre, Cates-Carney writes. "Solenex's lease was one of dozens issued in the area during the Reagan administration. During that era, BLM was committed to increasing oil and gas production from federal lands. After years of appeals, the permit for Solenex was finalized. But before the drilling could begin, new leadership entered the White House. Bruce Babbitt, interior secretary during the Clinton administration, halted the lease."

The U.S. Department of the Interior last year said it was going to cancel the lease, claiming authority because the lease was originally issued without full environmental review, Cates-Carney writes. The federal district judge will determine whether the department does have the authority to cancel the lease "and whether the government unreasonably delayed Solenex from drilling for 30 years."

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