The Badger-Two Medicine is within an area geologists refer to as the "thrust belt".
The thrust belt is a geologic feature, resulting from the collision of two tectonic plates that thrust up layers of rock to form mountain ranges. In this case, the Pacific and North American plates collided to form the Rocky Mountain Range. According to geologists and petroleum engineers, the thrust belt, where the Badger-Two Medicine lies, exhibits conditions most favorable to hydrocarbon occurrence. For this reason, oil and gas companies, with the support of the Reagan administration, aggressively sought to develop the Badger-Two Medicine for oil and gas exploration in the early 1980's. The Reagan administration illegally granted forty-seven leases to fossil fuel companies. Leasing out the Badger was part of a broader policy of the Reagan administration of opening up federal lands to oil and gas development, no matter how ecologically fragile or culturally important the area was.
The case of the Badger is a particularly egregious example, and fits within a larger plan of the fossil fuel industry to establish a national precedent of successfully drilling in one of the largest remaining roadless areas in the lower forty-eight states. The precedent established by drilling in an area that literally sits across the street from Glacier National Park, borders two designated wilderness areas, serves as one of the most crucial wildlife corridors in the lower forty-eight, and considered sacred to a Native Tribe would mean no lands are safe from fossil fuel development. They would have free reign everywhere. Despite the claim of petroleum engineers that the Badger-Two Medicine exhibits the perfect conditions for the occurrence of hydrocarbons, a Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement states there is only a mere .42% chance of a significant discovery of oil or gas in the area.
Road building and industrial development will disrupt migration through one of the most crucial wildlife corridors in the lower forty-eight that connects Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and will further sever ecological connectivity. Pollution from pipeline ruptures, oil spills, leaking drilling fluid pits, fracking wastewater, stream sedimentation and mixing of drilled through water tables will contaminate the Badger-Two Medicine watershed, jeopardizing the habitat of one of the last remaining populations of genetically pure West Slope Cutthroat Trout. Once roads carve through the landscape, timber harvest becomes more economical (which is problematic, since the Forest Service already identified parts of the Badger as being suitable for timber harvest), and increases the possibility of logging. Such development and increased human access harms the integrity of the wild nature of the landscape, making it unsuitable for wildlife. This is particularly concerning because a recent report shows that a football field worth of wild land is lost to industrial development every 2.5 minutes in the Western United States.
After thirty-four years of Tribal and conservation groups fighting to cancel the forty-seven leases and protect this pristine landscape, forty-four leases have voluntarily been retired, the Department of the Interior has cancelled one lease (Hall Creek) and not a single road, bulldozer or drill pad has disturbed this fragile ecosystem. Most recently, on November 16, 2016 - under the leadership of Sec. Sally Jewell - the Department of the Interior and Devon Energy reached an agreement to retire their fifteen leases. However, the holder - Solenex - of the Hall Creek lease is suing the federal government to restore their lease and allow them to drill. The holders of the remaining two leases are Moncrief and JG Kluthe. Solenex has been offered numerous opportunities to either sell back the leases or explore somewhere else on the Blackfeet reservation that is not ecologically or culturally sensitive. They refuse to do the right thing. According to Blackfeet elder Tiny Man Heavy Runner, the Blackfeet call the time of the dinosaurs the Serpent World, and believe that the Creator (Napi) destroyed it and buried it deep in the Earth for a reason. He says, "When you drill for oil you bring the Serpent World up into this world, where it was never supposed to be. We say it should stay in the ground, and if you look at the damage the Serpent World is doing to us today, you can see we're right."
As you may know, in March of this year we celebrated a remarkable step toward permanent protection of the Badger Two Medicine when the U.S. Department of Interior cancelled the oil and gas lease on the Hall Creek landscape. The government contends that the lease was illegally issued in 1982 because the environmental studies of this area did not consider how the drilling would disturb the Blackfeet Tribes cultural and religious connection to the sacred 165,000 acre Traditional Cultural District. Federal Officials are now officially recognizing the devastating impact drilling would have on the cultural and ecological integrity of this land and have taken the initial step to right the wrong done three decades ago. However, as expected, Solenex does not plan to back down easily. The company has demanded that the case be brought to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington D.C. to challenge the governments decision. We do not know the outcome of this challenge, but we do know GTMA will continue to work with the Blackfeet Tribe and everyone else dedicated to this campaign, until the Badger is permanently protected. Read more about this lawsuit.
Another threat has appeared on the horizon in the form of fracking on the Blackfeet Reservation in areas adjoining the Badger-Two Medicine and Glacier National Park. Oil companies hope to access oil and gas deposits in these wilderness areas through directional drilling from the reservation. Fracking and its associated chemicals could irreparably damage the ground and surface waters flowing out of the Badger-Two Medicine and Glacier National Park. Although by 2014 much of the new exploration for drill sites has stopped, fracking continues in the area. For more information, please read more about fracking on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation by clicking here.
The Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance stands ready to defend Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine wilderness in the face of such development which would endanger this sacred, pristine, and productive habitat. With our wilderness allies, we have achieved significant results over the last thirty-four years, but new threats may arise until some form of permanent protection is achieved.