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GREAT FALLS - Officials on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation are partnering with a Denver-based company in looking for oil on reservation lands along the Rocky Mountain Front.

Anschutz Exploration Corp. is putting up the money for the exploration. The tribe's investment is covered by putting up the land for exploration wells, said tribal Chairman Willie Sharp Jr.

If the sites show potential, Anschutz plans to use directional drilling to better access potential oil reserves.

Last Wednesday, Anschutz crews wrapped up work on a site about three miles east of East Glacier. Work was scheduled to begin on Friday at a second site, about 33 miles north of Browning.

Site manager Ken Clare says the cores look good, but it could be weeks before they know if they found substantial oil reserves.

Jim Halvorson, a petroleum geologist with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas, said Anschutz plans to drill about 7,000 vertical feet into the two areas on the Front, and then horizontally about 11,500 feet. That method is being used because it makes it possible to drain more of a reservoir's oil from a single location.

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It's not known how much of an impact the exploration could have on wildlife along the Front and in Glacier National Park.

Environmental groups have argued drilling on the front should be banned to protect wildlife habitat, but officials in Browning say the project has the potential to change life economically for tribal members and reservation land owners.

"What about the Indians? Talk about an endangered species," said Ron Crossguns of the BIA's Oil and Gas Division.

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