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Ear Mountain

Ear Mountain rises northwest of Choteau on the Rocky Mountain Front.

After failing to reach agreement in a face-to-face meeting two weeks ago, attorneys for a Louisiana energy company have asked the court to hasten its review of plans to drill for oil in the Badger-Two Medicine area south of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Mountain States Legal Foundation lawyer Steve Lechner filed a request for oral argument and expedited consideration of Solenex LLC v. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on April 30.

Interior Department attorneys responded that they do not oppose the oral argument request, but believe there is no need for a quickened process. The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The case involves a 6,247-acre lease for oil exploration in the mountainous area bounded by the reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Blackfeet tribal leaders sent Jewell and President Barack Obama letters this spring pointing out the spiritual significance of the area and their opposition to any industrial development there. They also maintain the lease was granted without proper National Environmental Policy Act or Endangered Species Act review and should be canceled.

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In an email statement, Mountain States President William Perry Pendley said the Blackfeet Tribe was trying to control access to land it didn't own.

"The Tribe is more than willing to let our client drill on its land for a price, but is opposed to him drilling on federal land because the Tribe would receive no royalties," Pendley wrote. "That (this) is all about money for the Tribe is evidenced by a 1983 Blackfeet resolution, which reflects the Tribes desire to develop the area of Solenex’s lease for its own pecuniary gain."

Blackfeet Historic Preservation Officer John Murray said the tribe was unable to reach an out-of-court agreement with Solenex.

“Everyone was very cordial, but there was a certain amount of frustration in the room,” Murray said Monday. “This was the third time we’ve come together, and this has been going on for 30 years. We asked if they would take a buyout, but (Solenex owner) Sydney Longwell said no.

"We also offered leases on the eastern boundary of our reservation, but Longwell said he had the best prospect on the whole Rocky Mountain Front there between Alaska and Mexico. He wants to drill and we don’t want him to drill, so there’s an impasse.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.