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Western Legal Foundation Responds to Federal Filing

Nov 23, 2015 | by William Perry Pendley

DENVER, CO.  A Louisiana man issued a federal oil and gas lease in 1982, but denied the right to explore his property since approval of his application for permit to drill (APD) in 1985, today responded to a brief filed by the United States government in which it argued that it has authority to cancel his lease.  Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represents Sidney Longwell of Baton Rouge, whose company Solenex, LLC owns the Reagan-era lease, and which sued Secretary of the Interior Jewell and Interior and Agriculture Department officials in federal district court in the District of Columbia, and will respond later to the government’s brief.

“The government does not have authority to cancel the lease.  It is insane to argue that four different studies of NEPA and the NHPA over a ten year period that culminated in a decision by a presidential appointee acting on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior all violated the law.  When the Carter administration made the decision to issue leases in this area there were NO appeals.  When this lease was issued to our client, there were NO protests.  In fact, the tribe passed a resolution to work with lessees in developing the energy beneath these lands.  The USGS, estimates there are 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in this area and we want only to spend a month drilling—within sight of a major highway and a railroad—to find out if the experts are right.  We are in the correct court for challenging any attempt to cancel this lease, if the Secretary of the Interior attempts to undertake that effort,” says William Perry Pendley of MSLF.   

In June 1982, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Mr. Longwell a 6,247 acre oil and gas lease on federal land in northwestern Montana.  In 1983, Mr. Longwell assigned the lease to America Petrofina Company of Texas, which later became Fina Oil and Chemical Company.  In October 1983, Fina submitted an application for permit to drill near Hall Creek, approximately 2 miles south of U.S. Highway 2 to evaluate the natural gas potential of that portion of the Overthrust Belt.

After extensive review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), amidst appeals, and following a ruling by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLM), in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM approved the APD in 1985, 1987, 1991, and finally in January 1993.

In June 1993, the Secretary of the Interior suspended activity on the lease purportedly to permit Congress to act.  In 1994 and 1995 the Secretary extended the suspension awaiting congressional action.  Then, in 1996, the Secretary continued the suspension, purportedly to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.  In 1997, the Secretary extended that suspension and finally, in 1998, continued it indefinitely. 

In 1999, FINA assigned its rights under the approved APD and lease back to Mr. Longwell.  In July 2004, he assigned his rights to Solenex, which, in May 2013, asked that the suspension be lifted; the request was denied.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  Solenex, LLC v. Jewell

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