MISSOULA — A Denver-based energy exploration company that has been searching for oil and gas on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation alongside Glacier National Park announced Tuesday that it would cease drilling and shut down the project.

The company, Anschutz Exploration Corp., released a statement saying that “drilling and testing have located some resources, but not enough to support further exploration or development investment,” and called the sudden move a “business decision.”

The company, which is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, has drilled 14 exploratory wells, and analyzed multiple hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs, according to the statement.

Anschutz has been active on the reservation for more than a decade, and notified the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council of its decision Monday.

“We appreciate the commitment that everyone has made to work for success on this large project; however, there are other projects in our company that require our attention,” Christopher Hunt, chairman and chief executive of Anschutz, said.

The oil and gas play has been met with criticism due to its proximity to Glacier National Park’s boundary and various sacred tribal sites, and because of the unknown effect that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will have on natural resources and wildlife, both on the reservation and inside the park.

“I think it is good that this is slowing down,” said Jack Gladstone, a tribal member and a member of the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, a nonprofit group working to preserve the headwaters of the Missouri River. “We need to act as stewards of our water resources and, fundamentally, we felt that the surface and groundwater originating on and flowing through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation are of paramount importance to the future well-being of our people. We have to consider the potential that fracking would irreparably damage these water resources.”

A spokesman for Anschutz said the company will surrender leases on all lands that are not within a spacing unit for a producing well.

“We will continue to operate the five or so producing wells for now,” Anschutz spokesman Brent Temmer said.

The company will reclaim drilling sites and access roads of non-producing wells. Reclamation includes plugging and decommissioning wells, removing surface equipment, regrading, replacing topsoil and reseeding, he said.

The decision to discontinue drilling comes days after the Missoulian published a story about a petition opposing a hospitality company with direct ties to Anschutz that is expected to bid on Glacier Park’s upcoming concessions contract.

In addition to ventures in oil, railroads, telecommunications and entertainment, Phil Anschutz owns Xanterra Parks and Resorts Inc., the nation’s largest park concessionaire, which manages lodges in numerous national parks in the American West and currently holds the primary concession contract for Yellowstone National Park.

The petition was endorsed last week by Blackfeet Tribal Business Councilman and state Sen. Shannon Augare, and had more than 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday evening. The entreaty urges signees: “Do not award a lucrative concessions contract for Glacier National Park to billionaire Phil Anschutz while he is threatening the future of the park with his fracking on abutting land.”

The company’s leasehold of nearly 600,000 acres is on the western third of the Blackfeet Nation, adjacent to Glacier National Park. Two other exploration companies with leases on the remaining reservation lands halted their operations earlier.

Conservationists, park officials and some tribal members had previously asked Anschutz to conduct baseline water quality testing and wildlife surveys before beginning full-field exploration along the Rocky Mountain Front so as to determine the effects of fracking on the ecosystem.

Park officials raised concerns about degradation to air and water quality, wildlife and the viewshed. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the limited scope of the company’s environmental assessments to date, and pressed Anschutz to disclose its intentions for full-field development and submit to a broader assessment.

Others have suggested that economic development on the reservation will be buoyed by protecting natural resources, and that the financial gains would be greater and more sustainable.

“This isn’t the end of an economic development conversation on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, it is actually the beginning of a sustainable economic development conversation in Indian country that emphasizes a whole portfolio of opportunities, including natural energy development with an eye toward natural resource protection,” Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association, said. “This has incredible potential to help drive a sustainable economy into the future. We have already started that conversation, and this gives us the breathing room to continue that conversation.”

Locations

(8) comments

blackfeet ndn
blackfeet ndn

Tree huggers win again. We need oil exploration on our reservation. Our economy depends on it. Anschutz got mad and took his marbles and left the game, and bad mouthed our oil and gas potential. Shannon Augure and Jack Gladstone don't speak for me or my family. I suspect they don't even own an inch of land. Most landowners are fullbloods or close to it, including many relatives of mine who have signed many oil leases. Who cares who gets the concessions in Glacier Park. It's none of the tribe's business. Just like it's none of the parks business what we do on tribal land. This just grinds my gears.

bker
bker

Sad. This guy paid to drill 9 dry holes. That's a lot of money, lot of jobs. But you can't continue to go after the "rich" without consequences. Who cares what company services the out of state and foreign tourists in GNP. But the jobs lost now are Montana jobs.

Horatio
Horatio

Well said Blkft ndn- a voice from the Nation. "The oil and gas play has been met with criticism due to its proximity to Glacier National Park’s boundary and various sacred tribal sites, and because of the unknown effect that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will have on natural resources and wildlife, both on the reservation and inside the park." “... contract for Glacier National Park to billionaire Phil Anschutz while he is threatening the future of the park with his fracking on abutting land.” . This is so ignorant, yeah, ignorant. Obstructionists and media always play up the dangers of fracking where there is still no evidence of damage by fracking, only the concern, fear and hysteria of. Fracking effects of nat. resources and wildlife on reserv. and inside park? Come on. Control of the fluids from the process is very controlled and regulated. All our nature is sacred, but we need utilize our natural resources. For obstruction, the sacred is over played.

2012
2012

blackfeet ndn--the member quoted was glad they are leaving. It looks like the tribe doesn't want any production on the reservation. You might want to get in contact with the paper and tell them you want equal time. Let them know that you want jobs on the reservation, that Gladstone doesn't speak for the tribe, and that most members welcome exploration, If you don't do it, nobody will do it for you. Step up.

Our MT
Our MT

Very sad for the Tribe and the area residents. This story does illustrate the "economic hazards" of the anti-Fracking enviro extremists spreading their unfounded fear and hysteria. They are responsible for the real damages here.

End Daze
End Daze

Yes, it is too bad that those who continually block economic growth and jobs and wealth generation keep winning, but in this case it is not inappropriate. No one votes more for that agenda than Native Americans. The only time they like development is when the proceeds are going into their pockets -- and most especially if it is via the route of the taxpayers. Companies don't have to invest here, and the fact is they are discovering that while ND and Montana might have been the first, they are not the only states with shale oil, and they can invest their money in a lot of different places. ... maybe even in something that isn't energy related. Too bad Mr. Gladstone doesn't investigate the truth of things rather than repeat myths.

goose
goose

Poor reporting, envirowackos, and fracking aside, this story is all about economics. Anschutz didn't feel the economics justified the cost of more drilling in this area compared to other places that have more potential. Happens all the time, and normally doesn't make the newspaper......

Napi-Coyote
Napi-Coyote

As a Blackfeet tribal member and land owner I feel the need to clarify whom Jack Gladstone really is and to question the real reasons behind his 'environmental' stand. Primarily of Cree descent that name came onto the reservation in 1885 when a band of canadian Indians took refuge (near Babb), after being pursued by the RCMP during the Charles Riel Rebellion, and just sort of stayed.
To my knowledge Jack grew up in a family of stone workers in Seattle... but after visiting his relatives in Babb chose to remain in Montana (Missoula) where he would fashioned himself into a folk singing IndianTroubador, gaining a popular following of Montana environmentalists and girlfriends plus the approval of Glacier National Park employees.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.