NORTH FORK VALLEY – On Monday, April 15, in accordance with a federal court ruling, the Bureau of Land Management for the first time since the natural gas boom began released the names of the industry players who nominated parcels for mineral development.
The original lawsuit was filed in June 2012 by the Delta County group Citizens for the Healthy Community, and the Western Environmental Law Center, to uncover the names of the nominators of roughly 30,000 acres of public lands around the North Fork Valley communities of Paonia, Crawford and Hotchkiss. The Bureau had until Monday to appeal Judge Richard P. Matsch’s Feb. 13 decision to release the names, but decided in the end to reverse course and reveal the previously secret information.
The nominating parties include Gunnison Energy Corporation, a division of Oxbow Mining, Contex Energy Company, of Denver, and, proposing the lion’s share of the leases, Denver-based Baseline Minerals, Inc.
Contex and Baseline are what is known as industry landmen, companies that represent energy developers, or other speculators, in researching title, negotiating rights of way, and bidding on behalf of their clients for mineral leases. So, it is impossible to know the entities for which Baseline may be working, but at least, according to CHC’s Executive Director Jim Ramey, a precedent has been set.
“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. By not appealing the court’s February ruling,” Ramey said, “BLM has signaled that it will change its policy to require full transparency in the agency’s oil and gas leasing program.”
The decision is consistent, CHC claims in a release, with the court ruling, in which Judge Matsch wrote 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.”
While noting CHC’s victory in the courts, the Denver-based energy watchdog group, Center for Western Priorities, nevertheless sounded a cautionary note.
“The BLM pulled back the curtain, only to reveal two shadow businesses speculating on our public lands,” said CWP Policy Director Greg Zimmerman in a release.
“Western communities deserve to know which companies will actually drill for oil on nearby land, because the health and safety records of those companies are of tremendous importance. The unveiling [only] of these [middlemen] violates the spirit of the court's decision,” he said.
WELC attorney Kyle Tisdel accented the positive: “This is a big victory for government transparency,” he said. “BLM’s decision to abide by the court’s ruling suggests an evolution in agency thinking and a fundamental recognition that we deserve to know who wants to drill and frack on public lands.”
The local fight to keep what has now been reduced to a 22,000-acre lease sale from going forward has received two reprieves, or deferrals, from the Montrose Field office of the BLM. The latest indicates that the agency will hold off at least until it finishes the revision of its 30-year-old Resource Management Plan.