An environmental analysis by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has found that approving eight natural gas wells on existing federal leases north of the Missouri River within and adjacent to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana would have little environmental impact. BLM has recommended approval of the wells, but said it will not make a final decision until after a public comment period ends in mid-February.

“Natural gas development is one of the historic uses of this region, something recognized in the presidential proclamation establishing the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument,” said Mat Millenback, BLM state director for Montana. “Allowing companies to develop leases that pre-existed the monument designation is consistent with both the monument proclamation and with our interim management practice for the area.”

The wells would be drilled in the Bullwhacker Coulee area and are adjacent to the Leroy Gas Field in Blaine County, MT. Six of the wells would be within the monument area. Macum Energy Inc. of Billings, MT has filed six of the applications to drill; Klabzuba Oil and Gas Inc. of Havre, MT has filed two applications, and Ocean Energy Resources Inc., with offices in Havre, has filed one application.

“These wells will better define reserves in the monument,” said Don Judice, BLM’s supervisor in Great Falls, MT. “The BLM will use this information to prepare a full field development scenario for natural gas development, as required by the monument proclamation.”

Although no new leases may be approved because of the area’s designation as a monument, the proclamation signed by President Bill Clinton in his last days in office allowed existing leases to be developed. Existing leases on the eastern end of the monument, including two of Macum Energy’s leases, are the subject of a lawsuit filed two years ago by the Montana Wilderness Association in federal district court in Missoula, MT. They await a judge’s ruling; the association argues that many of the leases are invalid under federal law.

The BLM plans to hold open houses to discuss its analysis on Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. Written comments should be sent to Don Judice, Field Station Supervisor, 1101 15th St. N., Great Falls, MT 59401. The deadline for comments is Feb. 14.

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