BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Lawyers for the Louisiana oil and gas company have asked a federal judge to reinstate a drilling contract on land considered sacred to Indian tribes in the United States and Canada.
A long-contested energy lease in the Badger Two Medicine area in northwestern Montana near the Blackfoot Reservation was canceled in 2016 under then US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. This decision was upheld by a federal appeals court last year.
Now Soleneks LLC, the company that owned the lease, is trying to obtain in court the restoration of its drilling rights. In court documents filed Thursday against the Home Office, his attorneys argued that Jewell had exceeded her authority and the lease should be reinstated.
Solenex founder Sidney Longwell, who died last year, bought a 10 square miles (25 square kilometers) plot for lease in 1982 but never drilled the plot. Instead, Longwell faced major red tape in the US Department of the Interior and Agriculture, which prompted the company to take legal action in 2013.
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The Badger Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park is where the history of the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and the Blackfoot people of Montana began. Attempts were made to declare it a national monument or to make it a cultural heritage area, and tribal leaders strongly opposed Solenex’s drive to drill.
The Blackfeet intervened on the side of the government. Blackfeet Nation Conservation Officer John Murray said the tribe was confident in a lawsuit against the drilling.
“We knew they still wanted to try drilling,” Murray said. “We have several good lawyers. I think we will win. “
Solenex’s lawyers said the government had illegally “outsourced” its decisions, obeying the tribe’s desire to block drilling. They said officials should have thought about how the impact of drilling could be reduced or compensated if it continued.
Home Office spokesman Tyler Cherry declined to comment on the case.
The Solenex lawsuit is being led by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a Colorado-based firm that deals with property rights, gun rights and other conservative motives.