FOIA Lawsuit Seeks to Lift Veil of Secrecy from Oil & Gas Leasing on Public Lands

Community advocates seek court’s help after federal government refused to reveal the corporate players behind oil & gas lease sale

Hear the story on KVNF

DENVER, CO – Today, Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) and the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to force the government to reveal the names of the individuals or corporations that nominated 30,000 acres of public lands in Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling. The nominated parcels were included in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) August 2012 oil and gas lease sale; however, due to overwhelming public opposition spearheaded by CHC and WELC, BLM announced in May that it would defer the lease sale.

In December 2011, in an effort to learn more about the potential impacts of the proposed drilling surrounding their community, CHC and WELC requested from the Department of Interior (“Department”) the names of the corporations that had nominated these lands for drilling, as they were likely to be the companies that would ultimately be drilling and fracking in the rural, agricultural community.  The Department refused to reveal their identity, which led to today’s lawsuit.

The case, filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), aims not only to reveal the identity of the persons or entities that nominated pubic lands for inclusion in the North Fork lease sale, but also to put an end to BLM’s general policy and practice of keeping the nominators’ identity secret until after a lease sale takes place.

“The public has a right to know which companies are nominating our public lands for oil and gas development,” said Jim Ramey, Director of CHC.  “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.”

At virtually every turn, the public is kept in the dark as our public resources are sold to the oil and gas industry.  This secrecy starts at the very beginning with a process known as an expression of interest (EOI). The EOI process allows the oil and gas industry to “nominate” behind closed doors the public lands they wish to exploit, which the BLM then leases through a competitive oil and gas lease sale.

“The public is not allowed to know who these ghost entities submitting the EOIs are until after the lease sale is held – depriving the public and organizations such as Citizens for a Healthy Community from engaging in the BLM’s decision-making process on a fully-informed basis,” said WELC Attorney Kyle Tisdel. “This lawsuit seeks to put an end to this practice of concealment. As Justice Brandeis once wrote, ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.’”

In withholding the identities of the nominating parties, the Department claims that disclosure could, among other things, reveal what lands specific corporations have an interest in leasing, and thus is “likely to cause [those entities] substantial competitive harm.” By hiding the identity of the nominating corporations, the Department is prioritizing private industry’s competitive advantage over a fully informed public, not to mention the Department’s own ability to maximize revenue generated from the sale of our public resources!

“The people of the North Fork Valley have been put through undue burden and harm already. When the public lands surrounding our communities are nominated for industrial scale oil and gas development, citizens have a right to know who is responsible,” declared Ramey.

The complaint can be found here (PDF).

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