Oil, gas lease nominations can be anonymous
The Bureau of Land Management will allow entities to anonymously nominate parcels to be leased for oil and gas development.
The action is drawing criticism from dozens of citizen, conservation and other organizations who see it as an effort to sidestep a Colorado court ruling requiring nominators’ names to be made public before leasing occurs.
“This confounding decision results in a blatant undermining of the improved transparency BLM purports to advance,” the organizations said in a letter Friday to BLM officials in Washington.
At issue is instruction the BLM’s Washington office issued Oct. 28 to state directors. It said that as of Jan. 1, “in an effort to improve transparency,” the BLM will publish online the nominations entities submit to seek to have an area leased.
At the same time, it no longer will require entities to provide their names to the BLM in their nominations. If they are provided, they will be made public, according to the Oct. 28 memo.
The action follows a February ruling by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard Matsch in a lawsuit by Citizens for a Healthy Community, based in Delta County, and by the Western Environmental Law Center. The suit challenged the BLM’s policy of withholding the names of nominators until after lease sales occur.
The suit arose in connection with some 30,000 acres nominated for oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley, and was filed after a failure to get the BLM to release the information under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The BLM has said that if nominators can’t remain confidential, energy companies might be discouraged from nominating parcels because they would lose a competitive advantage by alerting others to their interest in leasing an area.
Ultimately, confidentiality benefits the public because of the revenue generated from lease sales, it maintains.
In his ruling, Matsch said a nominator’s identity may be relevant to parties wanting to raise concerns about the nominator’s environmental record, and concealing it “runs directly contrary to the purpose of the public sale process.”
In the letter Friday to the BLM, Citizens for a Healthy Community and 44 other organizations said the new BLM policy “is in direct conflict” with Matsch’s ruling.
Among those signing the letter are the Colorado Mountain Club, the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and the Holy Terror and Thistle Whistle farms in the North Fork Valley.