22 Mar Industry Trade Group Attempts to Keep Nomination Process Secret
March 22, 2013
Energy Companies File to Intervene in FOIA Lawsuit to Keep Secret the Identity of Parties Who Nominate Public Lands for Drilling and Fracking
DENVER – The Western Energy Alliance, a fossil fuel industry trade group, filed to intervene late yesterday afternoon in a lawsuit that seeks to bring transparency to oil and gas leasing on public lands.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch has already ruled on February 13 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must release documents about the leasing process. The trade group is now seeking to become a party after the judgment in an attempt to gain standing for an appeal to the Tenth Circuit.
“This demonstrates just how badly the energy industry wants to keep the public in the dark about oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Jim Ramey, director of the Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, which originally brought the lawsuit along with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). “This industry trade group is trying to prop up a bad policy instead of supporting transparency and open government.”
The BLM recently filed for and was granted an extra 30 days to release the withheld information, in keeping with the government’s 60-day appeal deadline. As of now, the government has yet to decide whether or not to appeal the February ruling, which concluded that the BLM broke the law when it concealed the identity of companies who nominated public lands for gas drilling leases. The government has until April 15 to release the names of the parties that nominated controversial lands in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas leasing, or to appeal the District Court’s decision.
“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, who represented CHC on this case. “The BLM should respect the District Court’s well-reasoned decision and change their policy to bring full transparency to the agency’s oil and gas leasing process on our public lands.”
In his ruling, Judge Matsch explained that the BLM’s argument to maintain industry secrecy “runs directly contrary to the purpose of the public sale process. Competition in bidding advances the purpose of getting a fair price for a lease of publicly owned minerals. Moreover, 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.”
The issue of ensuring open, competitive bidding is at the heart of the controversy. “Transparency in the leasing process is the very best way to avoid corruption and make sure the public gets a fair price,” commented WELC attorney Tisdel.
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. Fracking and other drilling activities threaten the water and air quality that all of these businesses depend on, and local residents have mounted 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 drilling and fracking, 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.