Good News for Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front

Too special to drill: panoramic satellite view looking south across the Badger-Two Medicine area. Click for larger version.

A big tip o’ my hat today to five energy companies that voluntarily relinquished 8 oil and gas leases covering nearly 30,000 acres of the spectacular Badger-Two Medicine area of Lewis and Clark National forest on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. There are no producing oil or gas wells on any of these leases.

Occidental Petroleum, Williams Cos., Rosewood Resources, XTO Energy and BP received no compensation for giving up their rights to drill in these areas, which they had originally leased from the federal government in 1982. The lands are now permanently protected from oil and gas leasing under a 2006 federal law authored by Montana Senator Max Baucus.

Take a look at what has been returned to the American public – if you like to hike, camp, climb, hunt or fish, plan a trip to the Front to celebrate:


Protected from drilling: Badger Creek and Badger-Two Medicine area of the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Photo by Tony Bynum.

Conservationists, ranchers, Native Americans and sportsmen’s groups – including The Wilderness Society, Blackfeet Nation, Trout Unlimited, Montana Wilderness Association and Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front – have worked for years to return all of the leased areas along the Front to public control.
29 leases covering another 40,000 acres in the Badger-Two Medicine area are still in private hands. None of these areas are producing any oil or gas.

Get the Popcorn Ready: ‘Split Estate’ Premieres Tomorrow

Whew, let’s take a little break from the Timor Sea drilling spill and watch a movie about…drilling. Split Estate premieres tomorrow, October 17, on Planet Green (a Discovery Network channel). It’s also showing on the 18th, 22nd and 23rd. You can view a trailer here.

Split Estate takes a tour of the Rockies, looking at the boom in natural-gas drilling from New Mexico to Montana and its impact on landowners – most of whom don’t own the mineral rights under their property, and can’t legally stop the mineral owners from coming onto their land to drill.

The filmmakers description:

Imagine discovering that you don’t own the mineral rights under your land, and that an energy company plans to drill for natural gas two hundred feet from your front door. Imagine having little recourse, other than accepting an unregulated industry in your backyard. Split Estate maps a tragedy in the making, as citizens in the path of a new drilling boom in the Rocky Mountain West struggle against the erosion of their civil liberties, their communities and their health.

This movie gives you an up-close look at some of the ares that SkyTruth has been studying from above.

New Map – Conflicts Over Drilling in the Rocky Mountain West

We’ve been having fun with the MyMaps application in Google Maps. Anyone can build their own custom maps and publish them online. This is really useful and kind of fun if you’re a map-geek like me. We just created a map of the Rocky Mountain states (CO, MT, NM, UT, WY) showing some of the places where conflict has emerged recently because of the rapid pace of drilling, mostly for natural gas. This is not just about tree-huggers; many of these conflicts involve local landowners, ranchers, hunters, outfitters and ordinary folks who are angry about the impacts to the land and wildlife, pollution of once-pristine Western air and water, and decline in their quality of life. So check out the map.

And if you get inspired to create your own map that tells an environmental story, please share it with us: add a comment to this post, or send us an email.

By the way, our interactive conflicts map is featured on a new website, Why The Favors (WTF??), making its debut this week at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.