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The oil company BP voluntarily gave up its rights to explore for energy along the western border of Glacier National Park, U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced Friday.

"Permanently protecting the North Fork for our kids and grandkids has been one of my biggest priorities for many years," Baucus said in a written statement. "Today's decision by BP is another step toward that goal."

The deal takes 1,853 acres out of potential exploration. That includes a 394-acre parcel near the Polebridge entrance to Glacier National Park.

"BP believes that relinquishing these acres back to the government is the right thing to do, and is consistent with good environmental stewardship in accordance with the wishes of the residents of the area," BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said. "In addition, these leases have long been subject to development restrictions and are not strategic to BP's North America gas business."

The leases include all of BP's remaining holdings in the North Fork Flathead. That brings the total of retired leases along the Flathead to more than 200,000 acres. About 50,000 acres remain under lease for potential oil and gas development.

"This is another right decision to keep this corner of Montana the way it was meant to be without costing taxpayers one penny," Tester said. "Over the past year, we've come a long way in making sure this landscape remains one of the world's most famous outdoor places, prized for its wildlife, fish and clean water."

In 2010, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Anadarko, Allen and Kirmse Ltd., and XTO Energy have all relinquished development leases along the North Fork of the Flathead. The moves have helped Montana keep its part of an agreement with British Columbia to forego Flathead energy exploration and mining on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Baucus and Tester introduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2010 in March, to provide funds for buying out lease interests on the Canadian side. While that bill was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in August, it has not made it to the full Senate.

"It's one of the ones we're pushing to get through," Tester said during a Missoula visit Friday. But he was uncertain if there would be enough time in the lame-duck session to get the bill amended to must-pass legislation before Congress adjourns in mid-December.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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