Judge: BLM must disclose oil, gas firms’ names

DENVER — A federal judge is reversing a 1995 policy and ordering the Bureau of Land Management to disclose who nominates parcels for the federal government to be leased for oil and gas development.

Companies can nominate certain parcels for the BLM to sell at a lease auction, and under a longstanding policy, the agency kept their names secret until two days after an auction.

The BLM said disclosing the identities, which it considered to contain commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential, could prompt competitors to bid against nominators who have spent time investigating the acreage in question.

“That contention runs directly contrary to the purpose of the public sale process,” U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard Matsch said in a ruling Wednesday. “Competition in bidding advances the purpose of getting a fair price for a lease of publicly owned minerals.”

He ordered the BLM to release the information within 30 days.

His ruling came after Citizens for a Healthy Community filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to find out who nominated parcels for leasing in Colorado’s North Fork Valley last year. The BLM later decided to defer leasing on the parcels, but the group still wanted to know who nominated them.

Matsch said in his ruling the identities didn’t qualify as confidential or privileged information that could be withheld. He also said the identities could be relevant for those raising concerns about the nominators’ stewardship records.

Citizens for a Healthy Community director Jim Ramey said Thursday he was excited about the ruling. “This is a victory for everyone who believes the government should do its business in the open and for everyone trying to protect their community from the severe impacts of oil and gas drilling,” he said.

The BLM was reviewing the ruling Thursday and had no further comment.