Energy development on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation hit the skids last week, as Anschutz Exploration Corp. announced it would relinquish its leases on all but a handful of wells.
Anschutz has leases on about 600,000 acres of land east of Glacier National Park and had drilled 14 exploration wells. It will continue to operate five production wells, but the remaining nine will be closed and reclaimed, the company said.
A petition drive started in the past month asked the National Park Service to exclude Xanterra Park and Resorts from consideration in the upcoming Glacier Park lodging concessions contract. Xanterra and Anschutz are owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.
Anschutz Exploration spokesman Brent Temmer, however, said the petition drive had no impact on the company’s decision.
“Not in the least,” Temmer told the Hungry Horse News. “Our decision to exit this project is based on rigorous technical analysis that indicates we should not continue exploring. It’s a business decision rooted in reason and data interpretation.”
Meanwhile, two other companies that hold leases on the reservation have also curtailed development or begun capping wells altogether. Rosetta Resources has begun capping and plugging wells. Newfield Exploration had not told the Blackfeet Tribe its full intentions as of yet, said Grinnell Day Chief, the tribe’s oil and gas manager.
Day Chief explained that Anschutz was exploring for oil deeper than the Bakken Formation in Marias River Shale and other formations.
“It was a totally different play they were after,” he said.
The problem, Day Chief said, was that the formation was “under pressured,” and extracting the oil was difficult. Anschutz was looking for wells that could produce 200 to 300 barrels a day but finding wells that produced 50 barrels a day, he said. Each well was an $8 million to $10 million investment.
Day Chief said the tribe isn’t giving up on its oil and gas reserves and hopes Canadian companies will take over leases and exploration.
Day Chief agreed with Temmer that influence from Glacier Park interests had no impact on the decision for Anschutz to pull out.
“None at all,” he said.
The Park has repeatedly asked for a environmental impact statement on the cumulative effects of drilling on the reservation. Park concerns ranged from water and air quality to light pollution. There were also concerns about impacts on grizzly bear and other wildlife habitat, as each well required service roads.
But the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees much of the environmental review for the wells, reviewed each well as a case-by-case basis.
Former Park superintendent Chas Cartwright, who advocated strongly for a complete environmental review of energy exploration on the reservation, said the decision reflected the overall will of the Blackfeet people.
“I think it’s great that the Blackfeet people have spoken about their interests,” he said. “It’s good news for the Blackfeet and good news for the Park.”
Pauline Matt, a member of the Blackfeet Alliance, which opposed hydraulic fracturing on the reservation, was also pleased.
“It’s a true blessing,” she said. “After two years of fighting, I feel like I can see the sunshine and breathe.”
Matt said the Alliance will continue to focus on water quality and water protection on the reservation and will hold a Blackfeet Water Festival on Earth Day next month.