lighted that “legal errors were made” at the time the lease was granted, includ- ing inadequate tribal con- sultations, according to Dylan Fuge, a counselor to the BLM director. Steven Lechner of the Mountain States Legal Fund (founded in 1977 by James Watt, who later be- came Reagan’s interior sec- retary) counters that fed- eral requirements were made stricter in the ensu- ing years and are now being unfairly (and illegally) ap- plied retroactively. Nearly 50 leases were granted in the same con- tested Badger-Two Medi- cine area at the same time Longwell won his lease rights for about $2 an acre. Longwell, 77, is now retired from a civil service post in Baton Rouge, La. The Blackfeet raised objections shortly after the leases were granted, and in 2006 Congress (under Bush) moved to perma- nently close off the area to development by offering tax incentives to lease holders if they relinquished their claims because of the spe- cial nature of the area, which abounds in wildlife. Roughly two-thirds of leaseholders took the offer, including BP and Occiden- tal Petroleum. In Novem- ber, Devon Energy agreed to relinquish its 15 leases, with CEO Dave Harger say- ing it was “the right thing to do.” Devon will only be compensated for the money it invested in the property. He added: “We do appreci- ate how important this is to the Blackfeet people.” He joined Blackfeet rep- resentatives in Washington for a signing ceremony along with Jewell, who said: “This is a historic day for the cancellation of 15 leases let in the early 1980s that never should have been leased.” Aside from two small leases held by trusts (which Fuge said the BLM is still trying to contact), that left just Solenex as the princi- pal holdout—and the com- pany already signaled it was not going quietly. In 2013, Solenex sued the gov- ernment for the excessively long suspension of its lease. That resonated with Judge Richard Leon, who wrote: “No combination of excuses could possibly justify such ineptitude or recalcitrance for such an epic period of time” and then ordered the Obama administra- tion to act quickly. Leon is hearing the more recent case challenging the lease cancellation. In a mid-December court filing, Solenex noted that for the past 33 years, the federal government has treated its lease as “valid and properly issued” and that canceling that now would mean “no lease is worth the paper it is writ- ten on, and the public in- terest in the development of the country’s oil and gas resources and the re- lated national security ben- efits would be effectively eviscerated.” It is anyone’s guess how much a pendulum swing the incoming administra- tion will make away from Obama’s stricter environ- mental concerns and more sympathetic hearing of Na- tive American interests, but the issues that arise are bound to be contentious, in courtrooms and on a policy front. Market forces, especially energy prices, will affect just how heated the contested battlefield becomes. There has been, for instance, less pressure from Western gas producers after the Marcellus Shale formation ramped up closer to major Eastern demand. Indeed, industry seems plenty busy, especially in its most productive basins such as the Permian and Bakken, where there also happens to be minimal fed- eral overlap. There are approximately 32 million federal acres already under oil and gas leases (about 12,000), but only 12 million acres are currently producing. This means about two-thirds of available land has not yet been drilled on, according to Fuge. Some 8,000 drilling permits have also been issued but not yet exercised, roughly four years’ worth of drilling at current rates, he added. ;
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