Sopris Sun Staff Report
The Bureau of Land Management is hosting three public meetings to provide information and accept public comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes 65 existing oil and gas leases on the White River National Forest (including leases in the Thompson Divide area), according to a BLM press release.
The meetings will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. They begin with a 45-minute open house in which BLM specialists will be available to answer questions with the public one-on-one. A brief BLM presentation will begin at 4:45 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. The BLM will begin taking oral comments at about 5:15 p.m.
The meetings will be held at the following dates and locations:
• Dec. 14, Glenwood Springs Community Center, 100 Wulfson Rd, Glenwood Springs;
• Dec. 15, DeBeque Elementary School, 730 Minter Ave, DeBeque;
• Dec. 16, Roaring Fork High School, 2270 Highway 133, Carbondale.
The EIS presents five alternatives, ranging from no changes to the existing leases to canceling them in their entirety. The final alternative the BLM ultimately selects may incorporate components of two or more of the alternatives presented in the Draft EIS.
“The meetings serve two purposes,” said BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Karl Mendonca. “We want to help the public understand what is in the draft so that they can provide more effective comments, and we want to provide an opportunity to people wishing to give us their comments verbally.”
Written comments on the draft will be accepted at the meeting and through Jan. 8. Comments may be e-mailed to WRNFleases@blm.gov; faxed to 970-876-9090; or mailed to BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office, Attn: WRNF Leases, 2300 River Frontage Road, Silt, CO 81652. Information on the EIS is available at blm.gov/co/crvfo.
On a related note
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams on Dec. 3 released the Final Record of Decision (ROD) for future oil and gas leasing on the 2.2-million-acre forest. This decision finalizes the analysis that revises the WRFN 1993 Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD).
In the Final Decision, Fitzwilliams said he placed an emphasis on conserving the roadless and existing natural character of the White River National Forest, while providing oil and gas development opportunities on lands that have proven to be productive in the past 15-20 years.
“Closing an area ‘through management direction’ is not a permanent withdrawal of lands for oil and gas development,” Fitzwilliams
stressed. “Laws and policy that govern national forest management allow for certain lands to be closed to leasing for a period of time, but not permanently. The authority to permanently withdraw an area from leasing or mining rests with Congress.”
Fitzwilliams continued, “Over one-million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production. In addition, I have decided not to allow leasing on 176,000 acres of the White River National Forest in order to protect and maintain the natural character of these areas and protect important wildlife habitat. I believe this is the right decision at this point in time. The lands made available in this decision have shown a demonstrated production potential over the last decade or so. If conditions or technology changes in the future, this decision can be revisited to address these changing circumstances.”
The WRNF Final Record of Decision identifies what lands are available for future oil and gas leasing and under what conditions leasing and/or development will be allowed. These “Lease Stipulations” are implemented to insure surface resources are protected.
The essential elements of the Draft Record of Decision are as follows, according to a WRNF press release:
• 194,100 acres will be Administratively Available for leasing. Of these acres, 118,613 acres are lands not already leased. Of the 74,493 acres of Designated Roadless Areas made available for oil and gas leasing, all would have a No Surface Occupancy Stipulation.
• 800,555 acres are Legally Closed to oil and gas Leasing (including Congressionally designated Wilderness, permitted ski areas, campgrounds and administrative sites).
• 1,281,700 million acres will be closed for oil and gas leasing through Management Direction. Approximately 1,067,000 of these acres are closed because there is little or no potential for oil and gas production due to the geology of these lands. The remaining acres were closed in order to protect other forest resources and maintain the natural character of the area. This includes parts of the Thompson Divide Area.
• The draft ROD amends the White River National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan as written in Appendix D of the FEIS, and replaces the adoption of the 1993 White River National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing Environmental Impact Statement and the Record of Decision with the 2015 White River National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing FEIS and ROD.
All documents associated with the Oil and Gas Leasing Environmental Impact Statement and the Final Record of Decision can be found at following Forest web page: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/home/?cid=STELPRD3824477.
Published in The Sopris Sun on December 10, 2015.