A federal judge for the D.C. Circuit reinstated two oil and gas leases on Monday, in an area of Montana deemed sacred to the local Blackfeet Tribe. (W.A. Moncrief, Jr. v. U.S. Dep’t of interior (Sept. 24, 2018) D.C. Circuit Civil Case No. 17-609 and Solenex LLC v. Sally Jewell et al. (Sept. 24, 2018) D.C. Circuit Civil Case No. 13-993.)

W.A. Moncrief and Solenex LLC held two oil and gas leases in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, issued by the Department of the Interior more than 30 years ago but then suspended in the early 1990s. In the years that followed the suspension, the private parties urged the government to act to reinstate the leases, but not until earlier this year did the BLM cancel the leases, without notice to the landowners.

In the ruling reinstating the leases, Judge Richard Leon criticized the federal government for first delaying implementation of the leases for 29 years, before finally cancelling it outright. This cancellation was held to be arbitrary and capricious—Judge Leon called the government’s actions “horsefeathers” and pointed out that the government’s “wait and see” approach wreaks havoc on individual leaseholders’ interest in carrying out their business purposes. Further, the court did not believe the government had acted in good faith in declining to uphold their contractual obligations. Thus, the leases were reinstated over the government’s protests.

The attorney for Solenex praised the outcome, pointing out that if the government can cancel a lease or contract on a whim, there is no real protection for private property rights in such situations.