Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) had requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) the identity of those who nominated 30,000 acres in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas leases. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) refused.
They never give out that information until a couple of days after the lease sale.
Western Environmental Law Center representing CHC filed a lawsuit. The names of those who submitted the Expressions of Interest were requested and all related documents.
On Feb. 13, Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled in favor of CHC, denied the BLM's motion for dismissal and issued a final judgment "ordering the United States Bureau of Land Management to release the information requested within 30 days."
The BLM had released its final decision to CHC on April 30, 2012, refusing the FOIA request. The BLM said the information withheld was protected from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the act. They asserted the Expression of Interest, which is the initial document filed with the BLM to nominate federal land for oil and gas development, contained "commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential."
The information requested on the Expressions of Interest is limited to the name of the individual or company, mailing address and telephone number, legal land description broken into parcels of 2,560 acres or fewer and the name and address of any private surface owners. The BLM said in its defense that those who nominated the land had done "preliminary investigative work to consider the possibilities of the acreage" and that made the work "protected information" which if released would give competitors "an unfair advantage."
Matsch's judgment states, "That contention 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 information required to be provided by an EOI submitter is not protected by Exemption 4 and the plaintiff's request must be granted."
Kyle Tisdel of Western Environmental Law Center said after the ruling, "Every community has the right to know what corporations are seeking to drill on public lands near their homes and where they recreate. The Court's decision is a clear rebuke of BLM's policy to protect industry at the expense of the public and its ability to fully engage the agency's decision-making process."
The ruling has obvious national impact because the policy is applied throughout the United States.
Jim Ramey, CHC director, stated, "This lawsuit is not only a victory for the North Fork but it's an important victory for every community across the west which is threatened by oil and gas drilling on public lands."
Ramey added, "The government has not been able to make a compelling argument as to why it needs to keep this information secret and away from the public."blog comments powered by Disqus