Community groups say more transparency is needed early in leasing procedure
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Community groups in Colorado this week hailed the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to release the names of the entities who nominated the public lands in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling and fracking.
The agency’s decision is a win for the public and government transparency, said Jim Ramey, director of the Delta County community group Citizens for a Healthy Community.
“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,” Ramey said.
The BLM’s decision came several weeks after a federal judge ruled that the identity of companies proposing parcels for energy development may help the public assess potential environmental impacts of a proposed sale.
At issue are BLM procedures for developing fossil fuel resources on public land. Under existing agency policy, the names of the entities proposing parcels for leasing are generally kept secret primarily for competitive reasons.
After the North Fork leases were deferred, citizen groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn the names of the nominating entities. When the BLM denied the request, the groups went to court, winning release of the names.
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.
Despite the ruling, the BLM’s overall policy of keeping the names of companies private before lease sales will continue, said agency spokesperson Vanessa Lacayo.
Maintaining that anonymity helps preserve the competitive integrity of the bidding process, Lacayo said. Releasing the names in advance could potentially result in some companies deciding to forego bidding for leases on public lands, she added.
Western Environmental Law Center attorney Kyle Tisdel said the agency could face additional legal challenges if it doesn’t change its policy. Tisdel said he considers the court ruling to be precedent setting.
“This is a big victory for government transparency and for communities across the nation facing oil and gas leasing on our public lands,” Tisdel said. “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.”
“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.”