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Legal limbo: The 30-year battle over drilling rights in the Badger Two-Medicine

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Aerial view of Hall Creek and the newly reinstated Solenex drilling lease site, seen along the creek drainage on the lower right, on the Badger-Two Medicine near the Blackfeet Nation on Sept. 21. The Blackfeet Nation, Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance and a coalition of other environmental groups are appealing a judge's decision to allow Solenex LLC, a Louisiana-based oil company, to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine. The Badger-Two is a culturally and historically significant natural area for Indigenous peoples of Montana.

The Badger-Two Medicine region nestles between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. It also lies in legal limbo after the latest court decision re-opened a fight over energy drilling rights that’s been going on for three decades.

On September 9, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ordered the Department of Interior to re-instate a federal lease and drilling permit to Solenex LLC. That lease covers about 10 square miles of the Badger Two Medicine, and the permit potentially opens it to road-building for drilling rigs to explore for oil.

Last week, the coalition of environmental groups and Blackfeet cultural organizations returned to court seeking to overturn Leon’s latest order. It’s a back-and-forth routine that’s gone on since the 1980s. And while many thought the matter settled at the end of the Obama – and then Trump – administrations, it now appears to live on through the Biden administration.

On this episode, Missoulian reporter Josh Murdock and Managing Editor Rob Chaney recount the history of the Badger-Two Medicine legal fight and why this place is important.

Crews with the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance conducted a flyover the newly reinstated drill lease site on the Badger-Two Medicine. Back in early September a federal judge re-opened the last remaining drilling lease site on the badger-Two Medicine area near the Blackfeet Nation.

This podcast is created in partnership across five newsrooms – the Billings Gazette, the Helena Independent Record, the Missoulian, the Montana Standard and the Ravalli-Republic. You can support this podcast and our efforts by subscribing. Visit any of these newspapers’ websites, and click on the Become a Member button at the top of the home page. We appreciate your support of local journalism.

Thom Bridge can be reached at thom.bridge@helenair.com

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