The grouse is a species of larger birds found across the western half of the US. In particular, the sage grouse is found across California, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakota’s. While they are close to being labeled as endangered, the federal government has yet to give full protection under the Endangered Species Act. Still, the sage grouse share some of the protections offered by the federal government. The public, various interest groups, and even oil and gas companies alike, have shown concern over their protection.
Sally Jewell, Secretary for the Department of Interior (DOI), announced plans to help the grouse population with the assistance of the Obama administration back in September. This was despite the species not being listed as endangered. Unfortunately, no clear plan has come to fruition and the sale of another 60,000 acres of oil and gas leases put up by multiple Montana energy companies has been further delayed.
Already, many oil and gas companies in Montana have been crippled by debt as they wait to finally sell of their various leases. Now, the state is facing cancelations by the Bureau of Land Management on long term leases across Montana. Solenex LLC, a Louisiana based energy company had their leases canceled after over 30 years of production. The leases were pulled due to environmental concerns along with wildlife concerns relating to the grouse population. The executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, Alan Olson, had several choice words describing the lease cancellation.“The current federal administration is going out of their way to decimate the natural resource industries in this state as well as the nation,” he said.
This round of delays is just one part of the over 8 million acres up for sale across the western plains. Spokesman Al Nash for the Bureau of Land Management said the policy is being discussed to “both protect the grouse population as well as allow for safe oil and gas exploration.” Those plans however, are several months from being completed.
Tim Baker, Natural Resources Adviser to the Montana governor, however thinks that no more delays or any further policy discussion is needed. “Leasing falls short of development,” Baker said, claiming that concerns over drilling could be addressed in lease documents and agreements before exploration would ever start. For now, companies will have to wait until the DOI can compose a plan satisfying both interests, or further defer the problem until a later date.