SG Interests files libel lawsuit against environmental activist Kolbenschlag
SG Interests, the energy company that held most of the Thompson Divide oil and gas leases canceled by the Bureau of Land Management last year, has filed a libel lawsuit against a Paonia-based environmental activist and consultant regarding a Facebook comment made on a Post Independent story.
The BLM decision involved 65 oil and gas leases previously issued in the White River National Forest. Of those, 25 fell in the Thompson Divide area.
The Texas-based SG Interests held 18 leases in the Thompson Divide, which were canceled in the November decision by the BLM.
SG Interests quickly followed that decision with statements that it would take the decision to federal court to attempt to recover lost profits. The company alleged that the Obama administration colluded with environmental interests to reach a “predetermined political decision” on the bulk cancellation of leases.
“While SGI alleges ‘collusion’ let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding (with Gunnison Energy Corporation) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers,” Peter Kolbenschlag wrote in a Facebook comment on a Post Independent story about the BLM cancellation. “Yes, these two companies owned by billionaires thought it appropriate to pad their portfolios at the expense of you and I and every other hard-working American.”
Kolbenschlag’s comment prompted SG Interests to file a libel lawsuit against him in Delta County district court on Feb. 21.
Kolbenschlag owns the Paonia-based Mountain West Strategies and has decades of experience in activist work on public lands, energy and natural resources campaigns.
SG Interests’ complaint claims his statement that these companies were fined for colluding to rig bid prices is “contrary to the true facts and reasonable people reading the assertion would be likely to think significantly less favorably about SGI than they would if they knew the true facts.”
“Kolbenschlag’s assertion that SGI was fined for collusion and bid rigging caused SGI actual damages, including, but not limited to, impairment of SGI’s reputation,” the complaint reads.
In February 2012 the Department of Justice announced a settlement with SG Interests and Gunnison Energy Corp. requiring them to pay $550,000 for “antitrust and False Claims Act violations.”
The two companies had agreed “not to compete in bidding for four natural gas leases sold at auction by the … Bureau of Land Management,” according to a DOJ statement.
“In 2005, GEC and SGI entered into a written agreement under which they agreed that only SGI would bid at the auctions and then assign an interest in the acquired leases to GEC,” according to the DOJ. “As a result of the agreement between GEC and SGI, the United States received less revenue from the sale of four leases than it would have had SGI and GEC competed at the auctions.”
This was also the first case of the DOJ’s antitrust division challenging an anti-competitive bidding agreement for mineral rights leases, according to the department.
A federal judge later rejected the settlement amount and eventually approved a settlement of $1 million. The companies did not admit any wrongdoing as a part of this settlement.
“The lawsuit is baseless. It is a transparent effort by SGI to silence its critics,” wrote Steve Zansberg, Kolbenschlag’s attorney. “On Mr. Kolbenschlag’s behalf, we will file a motion to dismiss the Complaint on or before March 20.”
Zansberg also represents various Colorado media, including the Post Independent, through the Colorado Press Association.
“I believe the substance of the complaint is without merit and the lawsuit is frivolous,” Kolbenschlag wrote to the Post Independent.
“Lawsuits like this are sometimes called SLAPP suits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,” he wrote on a crowd funding site he’s posted to support his defense fund. “Powerful corporations trying to silence Americans who don’t have the corporation’s interest as their own.”
SG Interests is seeking damages in an amount determined at a trial and attorneys’ fees.
“A win for me is a win for activism, and a black eye for the questionable tactics of suing citizens for speaking out,” Kolbenschlag wrote in his appeal for funding.
Bill Zimsky, attorney for SG Interests, wrote that the company has no further comment beyond the complaint.
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