HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Colorado exploration company will stop drilling next to Glacier National Park, with company officials saying they haven't located enough oil and gas to continue after 14 wells and more than a decade of work.
Anschutz Exploration Corp.'s leases are adjacent to Glacier on the western side of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, with some wells drilled within 10 miles of the park.
That has drawn protests from conservationists worried about the effects of hydraulic fracturing and the concern of officials from the park and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the possible effects on the resources and wildlife.
Anschutz spokesman Brent Temmer said the decision to halt operations was not influenced by any external pressure.
"Our decision to cease exploration is driven by the fact that we have not located enough resources to warrant continuing exploration," Temmer said Wednesday in an emailed response to an Associated Press query. "We came to the decision after extensive technical analysis and data interpretation. This is a business decision not affected by any other issue."
Anschutz is the last of three companies with energy exploration leases on the Blackfeet reservation to halt or suspend operations, effectively putting new oil and gas development on the reservation on hold.
Tribal officials said Wednesday the lack of success has scared away most U.S. companies, but they already are in talks with several Canadian firms about taking over the leases.
"These guys couldn't make it work, but maybe somebody else can," said Grinnell Day Chief, the tribe's oil and gas minerals director. "The oil and gas is here. It's just the problem of getting it out of the ground."
Regardless, Anschutz's decision to pull up stakes might alleviate — even if it's only temporary — some concerns expressed by Glacier officials about the potential of water quality being affected, the possible spread invasive weeds and the dark night skies being broken up by lighted drilling rigs, park spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
If oil and gas activity resumes on reservation land near Glacier, park officials will continue to state their concerns, she said.
"As a neighbor, we will comment appropriately," Germann said. But, she added, "That's their decision. That's their land."
The Park Service has called for a comprehensive study on the cumulative effects of all past and future drilling and what would happen if the wells start producing oil and gas.
Tribal officials have dismissed the concerns by federal agencies as outside interference, a view that Day Chief repeated Wednesday.
"This is our land, these are our minerals, and we will develop them the way we want," he said.
The Missoulian first reported Anschutz's decision to halt drilling.
Anschutz officials said they will continue to operate their five producing wells and surrender the rest of its leases after completing reclamation projects that include plugging other wells and restoring the sites.
Newfield Production Co. and Rosetta Resources, the two companies that already have halted exploration in the central and eastern parts of the reservation, are meeting with tribal officials in April to discuss whether they plan to surrender their leases, Day Chief said.
The tribe is in discussions with at least three Canadian companies to take over the leases, Day Chief said. Those companies, which Day Chief declined to identify, have a track record of producing wells in the same basin formation just to the north, he said
"They have it figured out across the border," Day Chief said. "But the U.S. companies have pretty much lost interest."