Groups urge BLM to revise policy for keeping O&G lease nominations secret

Posted: May 23, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E News PM
Oil drilling

Environmental groups today urged the Bureau of Land Management to overturn its decades-old policy of keeping secret the names of companies that nominate public lands for oil and gas leasing.

The letter to Neil Kornze, BLM's principal deputy director, is a sign that environmentalists intend to continue their legal push for greater transparency in the agency's oil and gas program.

Today's letter comes months after a federal district judge in Colorado ruled that BLM must disclose the names of companies that nominated tracts in the state's rural North Fork Valley, a decision that enraged the oil and gas industry.

BLM has long kept those names confidential until those parcels are actually bought at auction. Drilling groups argue anonymity is needed to protect business interests.

While the agency last month complied with the judge's order -- disclosing the names of two companies that nominated roughly 30,000 acres (Greenwire, April 16) -- environmentalists in Colorado said agency staff have indicated no plans to amend the underlying policy, which is detailed in BLM memo 2013-026.

"We request that BLM cease treating the identity of [leasing] submitters as confidential and withdraw its instruction memoranda requiring its field offices to do the same," says the letter signed by 29 groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Wilderness Society, and the Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "Furthermore, in order to best serve the public interest, we recommend that BLM should post the complete [expressions of interest] on BLM's state oil and gas lease sale web sites when announcing the public lands to be put up for lease at oil and gas lease auctions."

Jim Ramey, who heads the Colorado-based group Citizens for a Healthy Community, which filed the Freedom of Information Act request that led to the recent court decision, said BLM has failed to honor subsequent FOIA requests from his group and journalists.

A BLM spokeswoman said the agency is still reviewing the court's decision.

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