Trout Unlimited buys Rocky Mountain Front petroleum leases

Trout Unlimited buys Rocky Mountain Front petroleum leases

Trout Unlimited has bought leases for natural-gas drilling on 4,900 acres of the Rocky Mountain Front, and the conservation group said it will seek to have the leases retired for good.

Trout Unlimited announced the purchase Thursday, less than a year after the organization accepted Front leases from Questar Corp. The company donated several petroleum leases, which Trout Unlimited said would be returned to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for retirement.

The latest leases were bought from Donald Epperson, a private energy investor from Helena, and are on two tracts of land. Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said that under terms of the deal, the purchase price would not be disclosed.

The lease transfer allows the land to be used for the benefit of hunters and anglers, Hunt said.

”˜”˜This is land that really isn’t appropriate for oil and gas drilling in the first place, so to see these leases given to TU, and to know they’ll be retired and never drilled is really satisfying,’’ he said.

The request to retire the leases will be submitted to the BLM, said Hunt, who did not have a timetable for the process.

The leases are in the Badger-Two Medicine National Forest just south of Glacier National Park and west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The leases are in locations considered sacred by members of the Blackfeet Tribe, said Keith Tatsey, a tribal member and natural history instructor at Blackfeet Community College.

A congressional drilling ban on the Front, enacted in January, gives oil and gas companies a tax break if they sell their Front leases to nonprofit groups. That break would be equal to 25 percent of the capital received by the seller.

Staff for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said earlier that the incentive is not costly because the total value of all leases on the Front is $2.3 million.

In December, Startech Energy agreed to sell its leases on 23,310 acres of federal, state and private land to the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front and to the Wyss Foundation. The sale’s dollar amount was not disclosed.

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