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Ohio Utica Shale

Energy companies want to keep federal drilling nominations secret

By Bob Downing Published: March 22, 2013

Industry Trade Group Attempting to Keep Nomination Process Secret

Energy Companies File to Intervene in FOIA Lawsuit to Keep Secret the Identity of Parties Who Nominate Public Lands for Drilling and Fracking

Contacts:

Jim Ramey, Director, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-765-7111, chc.director@gmail.com

Kyle Tisdel, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8050, tisdel@westernlaw.org

 

March 22, 2013

DENVER – The Western Energy Alliance, a fossil fuel industry trade group, filed to intervene late yesterday afternoon in a lawsuit that seeks to bring transparency to oil and gas leasing on public lands.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch has already ruled on February 13 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must release documents about the leasing process. The trade group is now seeking to become a party after the judgment in an attempt to gain standing for an appeal to the Tenth Circuit.

“This demonstrates just how badly the energy industry wants to keep the public in the dark about oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Jim Ramey, director of the Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, which originally brought the lawsuit along with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). “This industry trade group is trying to prop up a bad policy instead of supporting transparency and open government.”

The BLM recently filed for and was granted an extra 30 days to release the withheld information, in keeping with the government’s 60-day appeal deadline. As of now, the government has yet to decide whether or not to appeal the February ruling, which concluded that the BLM broke the law when it concealed the identity of companies who nominated public lands for gas drilling leases. The government has until April 15 to release the names of the parties that nominated controversial lands in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas leasing, or to appeal the District Court’s decision.

“Maybe the industry benefits when the BLM keeps the oil and gas leasing process secret, but the public gets the short end of the stick,” said WELC attorney Kyle Tisdel, who represented CHC on this case. “The BLM should respect the District Court’s well-reasoned decision and change their policy to bring full transparency to the agency’s oil and gas leasing process on our public lands.”

In his ruling, Judge Matsch explained that the BLM’s argument to maintain industry secrecy “runs directly contrary to the purpose of the public sale process. Competition in bidding advances the purpose of getting a fair price for a lease of publicly owned minerals. Moreover, 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 issue of ensuring open, competitive bidding is at the heart of the controversy. “Transparency in the leasing process is the very best way to avoid corruption and make sure the public gets a fair price,” commented WELC attorney Tisdel.

The North Fork Valley is home to a thriving agricultural and tourism economy. Conventional agriculture, organic farming, ranching, vineyards, and tourism-based businesses have all grown in recent years. Fracking and other drilling activities threaten the water and air quality that all of these businesses depend on, and local residents have mounted energetic opposition to proposed leasing and drilling. When the BLM announced plans to lease nearly 30,000 acres of public lands surrounding the North Fork Valley for drilling and fracking, thousands of residents submitted comments opposing the plan and more than 150 filed formal protests of the decision. The BLM has deferred the sale twice since the initial lease sale announcement, most recently on February 6, 2013.

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ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

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Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.