Lease broker nominated majority of leases in Colo. North Fork

Posted: Apr 17, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E
Roan Plateau

A Denver-based company that leases federal lands on behalf of other oil and gas companies nominated the majority of 30,000 acres that was once slated for auction in Colorado's North Fork Valley, according to documents released yesterday by the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM made the documents public in response to a February court order that it reveal the names of the companies that nominated tracts for its August 2012 lease sale -- a move that forced it to violate a decades-old policy of keeping those names anonymous.

The expressions of interest indicate that Baseline Minerals Inc. nominated the vast majority of the 30,000 acres of lands in the North Fork, an agricultural valley where winery owners, organic farmers and residents have opposed drilling.

Other lands were nominated by Contex Energy Co. and Gunnison Energy Corp., the latter of which had previously made public its nominations.

BLM's decision not to appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch was a partial victory for the environmental group Citizens for a Healthy Community, which last year sued the agency after its Freedom of Information Act request for the company names had been denied.

Although the group didn't learn which companies intended to actually drill the lands -- which would have given the group the opportunity to review their stewardship records -- the court's ruling, and BLM's decision not to appeal it, could force the agency to overhaul its transparency policy for oil and gas leasing nationwide.

"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," said Jim Ramey, the group's director. "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."

In his ruling, Matsch said 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."

The Western Energy Alliance, which sought unsuccessfully to intervene in the case, had warned that the ruling could deter potential developers from nominating tracts if they know their work will be disclosed to competitors. The ruling could result in more companies hiring leasing brokers rather than nominating the tracts themselves.

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