A U.S. District Court in Denver ruled Wednesday that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) practice of keeping secret from the public the identity of entities nominating public lands for oil and natural gas development is unlawful.

The precedent-setting ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in June by the non-profit group Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) and the Western Law Center (WELC). The groups brought the lawsuit after the BLM refused to reveal names of the entities that had nominated 30,000 acres of public lands in Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling.

“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 decisionmaking process,” said WELC attorney Kyle Tisdel.

Until now, BLM policy has allowed the identity of EOI [expression of interest] submitters to remain secret until after the lease sale, depriving the public from participating in BLM’s oil and gas drilling decision-making on a fully informed basis.

Producers claim that divulging the names of the parties that nominate parcels to be included in the lease sale divulges proprietary information and tips off their competitors to their interest in certain tracts.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch rejected the government’s claim that disclosing the names of the nominators would give their competitors an unfair advantage. He ordered BLM to release the information being withheld within 30 days of the court judgment.

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