Texas oilman W.A. Moncrief has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of the Interior, challenging the cancellation of his oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, just south of Glacier National Park.
The lease was canceled by former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Moncrief was paid back $27,800 for the lease, which covered 7,640 acres of land in the region.
The Badger-Two Medicine is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe, and the tribe hopes to graze a bison herd there in the future.
But Moncrief, in his suit, claims that at the time the lease was granted in the early 1980s, the tribe had wanted to develop its own oil and gas interests in the region.
Moncrief is the second lease holder to challenge the cancellation in federal court. The Solonex Corp. has been battling the Department for years about developing its lease near Hall Creek in the Badger Two Medicine. Solonex’s lease was also canceled by Jewell.
Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes claimed the tribe offered Moncrief a trade for leases elsewhere on the Reservation.
“We presented him opportunities on our reservation far away from the sacred Badger-Two Medicine. Mr. Moncrief makes it sound as if we were offering leases on adjacent lands, when in fact it’s 50 miles from the Badger-Two Medicine to the oil fields we were discussing. The Blackfeet are not against oil and gas development. But we have always been and will always be against oil and gas development in our most sacred places,” Barnes said in a press release Friday.
He also said both companies had no one to blame but themselves.
“They ignored multiple Blackfeet resolutions declaring the land sacred, even before they purchased the leases; they declined myriad offers by the Blackfeet Nation and the U.S. government to negotiate a solution; they refused to join the vast majority of companies who exited the Badger-Two Medicine on good terms; and they forced cancellation as a last-resort option by their aggressive litigation and refusal to consult and cooperate. They have taken a radical position, and so have forced an outcome no one wanted,” Barnes said.
The Badger-Two Medicine is unroaded wildland, home to a herd of about 800 elk, rolling hills, trout streams, and a host of other game species. It is permanently protected under federal law against any new oil and gas leases, but not existing ones.
Most companies that held leases in the area voluntarily relinquished them.
A call to Moncrief’s offices was not immediately returned for comment.