Montana Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus reintroduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act last week to protect part of the state’s remote northwest from new oil and gas development and mining. The bill would help fulfill a 2010 trans-border agreement between former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.

Several companies, including BP plc, ConocoPhillips and Anadarko, previously relinquished their leases in the watershed, which borders the Flathead River (see Daily GPI, Nov. 23, 2010; Jan. 19, 2010). The senators said more than 200,000 acres held by energy companies have been relinquished, or about 80% of the total leased acreage. Most of the leases date back to the 1970s and are subject to development restrictions.

The bill has had the support of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the past two years, but it never got a floor vote.

According to the most recent annual report of the Montana Mineral Management Bureau, there was no oil or natural gas production in Flathead County. Neighboring Glacier County produced 4,736 bbl of oil and 93,662 Mcf of natural gas in fiscal 2011.

The North Fork Watershed is part of the Montana Thrust Belt, which contains an estimated 109 million bbl of oil, 8,638 Bcf of natural gas and 240 million bbl of natural gas liquids, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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