Industry wants say in lawsuit over leases

An industry group is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit after a judge ordered the Bureau of Land Management to reveal who nominated tens of thousands of acres for oil and gas leasing in the North Fork Valley.

The Western Energy Alliance says it should be allowed to become a party in the case because its members rely on current BLM policy keeping nominators of lease parcels secret until after a lease auction is over. The purpose is to ensure that a nominator “is not penalized for expending capital to explore and analyze the suitability of federal lands for oil and gas leasing and development,” the group said in a legal motion.

The organization’s motion drew criticism from Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Environmental Law Center, which filed the suit leading to the ruling by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard Matsch.

“This demonstrates just how badly the energy industry wants to keep the public in the dark about oil and gas leasing on public lands,” Jim Ramey, director of the Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, said in a news release.

In his ruling, Matsch cited arguments including the possibility that a nominator’s identity might be relevant to people who want to a raise a concern about the nominator’s environmental record.

The North Fork leasing plans are now on hold as the BLM further analyzes whether to proceed with them. It either must release the nominators’ names by April 15 or appeal Matsch’s ruling by then.

In a memo supporting its motion, the Western Energy Alliance said companies invest considerable time and resources in evaluating the geology and oil and gas potential of unleased tracts.

“If a competitor is able to learn who expressed interest in leasing particular parcels, that competitor gains valuable non-public information. The competitor may base its auction strategy on the ... submitter’s reputation in the industry, the submitter’s known geological knowledge and prior exploration work, or the submitter’s other lease holdings in the area. A competitor may purchase lease parcels with no interest in developing them in an effort to block or leverage a deal with the ... submitter who deems the parcel critical to larger development plans,” it said.

While a company can hire a broker to nominate parcels for it, that adds to the cost and impedes communication between the company and BLM if questions arise, the WEA said.

“Maybe the industry benefits when the BLM keeps the oil and gas leasing process secret, but the public gets the short end of the stick,” said WELC attorney Kyle Tisdel.


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