Groups sue government over energy lease secrecy

Two groups on Tuesday filed suit asking that the federal government be forced to reveal who nominated 30,000 acres in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas leasing.

The suit by Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Environmental Law Center also challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s general policy of not revealing nominators of parcels until leasing has taken place.

“The public has a right to know which companies are nominating our public lands for oil and gas development,” Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, said in a news release. “This is just another example of how the government bends over backward to protect the interests of an industry with deep pockets instead of the interests of the public.”

The North Fork Valley parcels had been scheduled to be leased in August, but the BLM deferred their leasing after widespread concern was raised about drilling in the area. However, the deferrals don’t permanently remove the 22 parcels involved from consideration. Therefore, the nominations are still relevant to Citizens for a Healthy Communities’ work “and are central to engage BLM’s decision-making process on a fully informed basis,” the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs said the Department of Interior earlier this year refused to reveal the nominators, saying that disclosure could reveal lands specific companies are interested in leasing, likely causing them “substantial competitive harm.”

In an email, Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said the agency’s policy also “is done to ensure that the public receives fair market value for the mineral resource that the public owns.

“Disclosing who nominated a given parcel prior to sale could make the bid process less competitive. Also, those nominating parcels would likely be subjected to months of scrutiny prior to a parcel even or ever being offered for sale. Individuals or small companies might avoid nominating parcels, squeezing out small businesses and entrepreneurs from participating in their local economies given the price they might pay merely for nominating a parcel that they may never successfully acquire at auction.”

One company, Gunnison Energy, already has publicly acknowledged having nominated a small amount of the North Fork Valley acreage for leasing, in the Paonia Reservoir area. Megan Anderson, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said that shows it didn’t think it would be hurt by such a disclosure.

Hall said the BLM already has “an open, public process for oil and natural gas leasing,” with several opportunities for public participation in the course of the process.

Ramey said the plaintiffs have been able to confirm that three companies in all nominated the North Fork parcels, with one company responsible for the bulk of the acreage nominated.


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