To preserve the region, five producers agreed last week to relinquish close to 30,000 acres of natural gas and oil leases in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front adjacent to Glacier National Park, said Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), Williams, Rosewood Resources, XTO Energy Inc. and BP plc will voluntarily relinquish leases on 28,730 acres. They did not receive "any consideration for their actions," Baucus said.

Giving up plans to develop the leases "will help preclude oil and gas development and preserve fish and wildlife habitat in this unique area, which is important to citizens of Montana and the rest of the country," said Baucus.

Oxy CEO Ray R. Irani said "returning these leases in this iconic national forest to the federal government is the right thing to do and is consistent with Oxy's commitment to safeguarding the environment."

The leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest were returned to the Bureau of Land Management and may not be leased again under a provision written by Baucus in a 2006 law that permanently protects the Rocky Mountain Front from future energy development.

Of the more than 152,000 acres of federal mineral leases originally held along the Front, nearly 111,000 acres will have been permanently retired after the latest transaction by the five producers.

"While natural gas will continue to be a vital part of our nation's energy future, it is important that we take advantage of opportunities that clearly provide mutual benefits to all parties," said Williams CEO Steve Malcolm.

The Badger-Two Medicine Area (BTM) has no existing infrastructure or drilling activity and serves as key habitat for several high-profile species, including grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep and cutthroat trout. The BTM is also considered sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe because it is the site of the tribe's creation story.

"The Badger-Two Medicine area of the Front is a vital part of our Blackfeet history and culture," said BTM Management Committee Chairman Keith Tatsey. "By retiring these leases, we will continue to have the opportunity to experience the life our ancestors understood would provide strength, subsistence, cultural identity and to connect us with our creator."

Many environmental and business groups signed on as supporting members of the agreement, including the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which is an organization of ranchers, hunters, anglers, outfitters, local business owners, Blackfeet Tribal members, public officials and conservationists.

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