US judge restores lease for oil drilling on land sacred to Canadian Blackfoot tribes – National

US judge restores lease for oil drilling on land sacred to Canadian Blackfoot tribes - National

A US federal judge on Friday ordered the Biden administration to reinstate a drilling lease that has been under dispute for decades on land near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, considered sacred to Native American tribes in the US and Canada. .

The 10-square-mile (25 square kilometers) oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area of ​​northwestern Montana was first issued in 1982. It was canceled in 2016 under then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, at the request of the Blackfoot tribes and conservation groups.

Attempts have been made to declare the area a national monument or make it a cultural heritage area, and tribal leaders have vehemently opposed the drilling in recent decades.

But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said Jewell did not have the authority to revoke the lease so many years after the sale and after several previous studies examined the environmental and other effects of drilling in the area.

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He instructed Department of the Interior officials to reinstate the lease and issue a drilling license to Solenex LLC, the Louisiana company that owns the lease. Leon issued a similar injunction in 2018 that was later overturned on appeal.

“It’s time to put an end to this endless and insufferable bureaucratic chess game,” Leon wrote in his 36-page conclusion.

Bordering Glacier National Park, the Badger-Two-Medicine is the site of the creation story of the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and Montana’s Blackfeet Nation. The Blackfeet had intervened in the case on the side of the government, and tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray said the fight against drilling would continue.

“We have lived under this kind of reckless threat to our holy lands for decades and we will never surrender to roads and oil rigs in Badger-Two Medicine,” Murray said.

Solenex founder Sidney Longwell, who died last year, bought the lease but never drilled the site. Instead, Longwell faced major bureaucratic delays within the US Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, prompting the company to file a lawsuit in 2013.

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Interior Department officials had no immediate response to the ruling, spokesman Melissa Schwartz said. A Solenex representative could not be reached for comment.

Judge Leon criticized government officials for adopting the Blackfeet Tribe’s stance that drilling had the potential to “affect the strength and spirituality of the area” without explaining what those effects were. He also rejected officials’ claims that drilling would not lessen the impact on the tribe’s resources.

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