BLM: Industry Landman Nominated North Fork Leases

April 15, 2013

In a momentous victory for the public’s right to know and government transparency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today reversed course and released the names of the entities who nominated the public lands in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling and fracking, in compliance with a recent federal court ruling. The information shows that industry speculator Baseline Minerals nominated the vast majority of the 30,000 acres of public lands in the North Fork Valley. A small portion of the lands were nominated by Contex Energy Company and Gunnison Energy Corporation.

The precedent setting ruling on February 13 by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch found that the BLM violated the public’s right to know when it concealed the identity of the entities that nominated public lands for gas drilling leases.

“The BLM’s mission is to best manage public resources, not to promote an energy speculation and commodities trading industry. If drilling companies want to develop publicly-owned minerals they should say so publicly, allowing concerned citizens and affected communities to evaluate their health, safety, and environmental record,” explained Jim Ramey, director of the Delta County community group Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC), which filed the lawsuit with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). “By not appealing the Court’s February ruling, BLM has signaled that it will change its policy to require full transparency in the agency’s oil and gas leasing program.”

This shift is consistent with the Court’s ruling, where Judge Matsch explained that “the identity of the submitter may be relevant to the plaintiff and others who may raise concerns about the stewardship records of that potential owner, a factor relevant to the environmental impact of the proposed sale.”

“This is a big victory for government transparency and for communities across the nation facing oil and gas leasing on our public lands,” commented WELC attorney Kyle Tisdel. “BLM’s decision to abide by the Court’s ruling suggests an evolution in agency thinking and a fundamental recognition that we, the people, deserve to know who wants to drill and frack on public lands.”

Of the three companies that nominated the 30,000 acres of public lands in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas development, Gunnison Energy Corporation voluntarily disclosed their identity to CHC and WELC in May 2012. Now, with the release of this information, we know the other two parties were oil and gas industry landmen operating on behalf of industry clients.

“We need to restore the balance between run-away energy development and protecting our thriving local economy based on agriculture, ranching and tourism,” explained local rancher Landon Deane, who raises 80 head of cattle just west of the Town of Paonia. “Conducting the leasing process in an open and transparent way helps make sure that drilling doesn’t destroy our communities and our local economy.”

The North Fork Valley is home to a thriving agricultural and tourism economy. Conventional agriculture, organic farming, ranching, vineyards, and tourism-based businesses have all grown in recent years. Delta County is home to nearly twice as many organic farms as any other county in the state. Fracking and other drilling activities threaten the water and air quality that all of these businesses depend on, and local residents have mounted increasingly energetic opposition to proposed leasing and drilling.

When the BLM announced plans to lease nearly 30,000 acres of public lands surrounding the North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling, thousands of residents submitted comments opposing the plan and more than 150 filed formal protests of the decision. The BLM has deferred the sale twice since the initial lease sale announcement, most recently on February 6, 2013.

 

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