When then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
visited Montana's Missouri Breaks on a rafting trip down the
Missouri River in 1999, he roused fears among some that if the area
were declared a monument, it would be put off-limits to oil and gas
leasing. Shortly thereafter, the Bureau of Land Management awarded
a series of leases to energy companies.
environmentalists hope that a lawsuit they filed against the agency
and Macum Energy in March of 2000 will turn the tide against energy
development in the area, which was proclaimed the Upper Missouri
River Breaks National Monument in January of last year (HCN,
1/29/01: Power on the loose). The suit alleges that the Bureau
issued seven of Macum's most current leases without public notice
and failed to conduct required environmental
"There seemed to be a rush by gas
developers to get in before the land was given monument status,"
says Dennis Tighe, past president of the Montana Wilderness
Ralph Gailey, president of Macum,
which is a joint venture partner of Icon Oil, U.S., LLC, says he is
frustrated because the lawsuit is holding up his small,
Billings-based company. Pipelines would be installed along existing
trails, he says, and the wells "don't leave any footprint. You can
hardly find them."
Meanwhile, final decisions are
pending on applications for drilling permits on eight older leases
held by Macum, Klabzuba Oil and Gas, and Ocean Energy Resources. A
draft environmental assessment issued by the Bureau in January
predicted no significant impacts from drilling on those leases, and
the Bureau's Don Judice plans to issue the permits by the end of
the month. Tighe hopes the lawsuit, which may be heard some time
this year, will force the Bureau to tighten environmental
regulations on future oil and gas development in the monument.