Reports of new exploration leases that include Chief Mountain on the border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park have upset some opponents of oil drilling along the Rocky Mountain Front.
“We’re still kind of in shock, wondering what’s going to happen on one of our most sacred sites on the reservation,” said Pauline Matt of Browning, who organized last year’s Chief Mountain Water Walk protest against oil exploration on the reservation. “We’ll be meeting next week, trying to decide what to do about this.”
East Glacier photographer Tony Bynum found records of the nine lease blocks in federal Bureau of Indian Affairs records and publicized them Thursday. Two of the blocks include a portion of Chief Mountain itself – the landmark square-shaped mountain visible for miles around the eastern border of the national park. Bynum said they appeared to have been leased in May.
Calls to the Blackfeet tribal government offices were not answered Friday. Lease documents listed Nations Energy LLC as the holder of 4,000 acres of Blackfeet Indian Reservation land for five years, with permission to drill up to three wells. However, no applications or plans for actual drilling or environmental analysis were presented.
Glacier National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said park officials were not aware of the lease agreements, and ordinarily would not be informed until actual drilling plans were announced. At that time, she said, the park would participate in any environmental reviews or National Environmental Policy Act analysis.
“We’re always looking at what’s happening along the park boundaries,” Germann said Friday. “When something triggers the NEPA process, we would speak to visual resources, night skies, air quality, water quality, grizzly bear and other wildlife migration issues, invasive plants – those are some of the issues we bring up.”
Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. conducted much of the oil exploration on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. In March, it announced it was discontinuing its activity after drilling 14 wells. The company maintains leaseholds on about 600,000 acres in the western third of the reservation bordering Glacier Park.
Company spokesman Brent Temmer said in March Anschutz intended to drill at least five producing wells on the reservation but would surrender other leases.
Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance member Jack Gladstone said drilling near Chief Mountain would be an affront to the extended Blackfeet and Blackfoot tribal nations in the United States and Canada.
“It would be like drilling on Mount Sinai,” Gladstone said Friday. “Moses had to take his sandals off there because it was sacred ground. If sandals are inappropriate on sacred ground, I’d think oil and gas rigs would be inappropriate also.”