Sopris Sun Staff Report
Conservationists, ranchers, recreationists, elected officials and others were elated at this week’s decision to limit future natural gas exploration and production in the White River National Forest, although the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) will not have any impact on existing leases that would allow drilling south of Carbondale on the Thompson Divide.
“The EIS and proposed ROD are about future leasing,” Wilderness Workshop staff attorney Peter Hart told The Sopris Sun in an e-mail.
Elaborating, Hart said the Forest Service EIS represents an updated analysis that the BLM will rely on when it figures out what to do about the existing leases on the White River National Forest that were illegally issued (including those on the Thompson Divide).
“(The) BLM has said that it may cancel, modify or uphold those leases,” Hart said. “Our hope is that the BLM ultimately voids those illegal leases, but we aren’t expecting a draft of that BLM analysis until next year.
“The draft Forest Service decision released today (Dec. 9) gives a pretty clear indication that the Forest Service prioritizes protection of the Thompson Divide and roadless areas from future leasing and development. Ultimately, we may be looking at BLM to make a decision that facilitates those priorities by canceling illegal leases.”
In a much anticipated 550 page document, WRNF Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams identifies lands available for oil and gas leasing on the 2.2 million acre White River National Forest and includes stipulations to be attached to leases for protecting surface resources. The analysis revises the WRNF’s 1993 Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD), according to a press release.