Volume 7, Number 46 - February 7, 2008
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SEIS To Determine Fate Of Suspended Wyoming Range Leases
The Bridger-Teton National Forest’s (BTNF) contentious 44,720 acres of oil and gas leases, suspended in 2006 after the sales were contested, are the focus of an upcoming supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).
The notice of intent (NOI) was published Monday in the Federal Register “to analyze and disclose new information relative to oil and gas leasing of 44,720 acres on the Big Piney Ranger District.”
The public is invited to comment on and provide new information within 45 days of the Feb. 4 publication date.
“This action is needed to address the appropriateness of the previous (2005 and 2006) leasing decisions, to decide the final disposition of the suspended existing leases and lease parcels and to be responsive to the (Interior Board of Land Appeals’) remand requiring incorporation of the new issues and information in the BLM decision to lift the suspension of lease parcels and issue oil and gas leases,” the NOI says.
In 2004, the forest supervisor reviewed several issues surrounding oil and gas leasing that had arisen since the BTNF forest plan was signed in 1990 and concluded the 1990 plan was still applicable, the NOI says.
The Forest Service then sent lease parcels totaling 44,270 acres to the BLM for “competitive lease sale” in 2005. In December 2005 and April 2006, the BLM sold and issued leases on 20,963 acres of the leases. Then in June and August 2006, the BLM sold but didn’t issue leases on the remaining 23,757 acres. Ongoing protests and appeals brought a “stay” issued by the IBLA on all leases already approved by the BLM on the first parcels sold. The rest of the contested leaseholds – 23,757 acres – were sold but the BLM did not issue further leases.
“The IBLA decision held that BLM has relied on an inadequate/stale NEPA analysis in reaching its decision to sell and issue the parcels,” the NIO states. “...(T)he NEPA analysis that was relied on by BLM to inform leasing decisions was adopted from the appropriate and applicable Forest Service NEPA.”
Last year, the IBLA remanded the appeals back to the BLM for resolution. The BLM is proposing lifting the current suspension on leases issued in December 2005 and April 2006 and to issue those that were sold but not issued from the June and August 2006 sales. “To do so requires the analyses of new issues and information not available to the deciding officials at the time the leasing decision was made,” says the published BTNF document. The upcoming SEIS will “address the resource issues and effects analysis concerns identified by IBLA and additional issues identified through this scoping effort.”
Those issues include but are not limited to air quality, water quality, mule deer migration and protection of Canada lynx habitat.
“The SEIS is going to take into account all changed conditions since 1990,” said Mary Cernicek, BTNF spokeswoman.
“That’s what the IBLA directed us to do – find out whatever the changed conditions are. ... (BTNF Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton) will decide what to do based on the new information.”
“(Hamilton) would have the authority to decide how to proceed with the 44,720,” Cernicek said.
One possible SEIS outcome could be “no action” – which would mean not issuing the leases that were sold but not issued, and canceling the leases that were sold. If the BTNF determines that a new decision isn’t needed, that will not be subject to appeal, the NOI says.
“The BLM will then decide whether or not the revised (BTNF) NEPA analysis is adequate and subsequently whether to lift the suspension on the existing leases and whether or not to issue leases on the other lease parcels.”
The initial comment period ends 45 days after the Feb. 4 publication. At this point, there are no public meetings scheduled but Cernicek said, “Nobody is opposed to that.”
After the draft SEIS is published in the Federal Register, possibly in May, there will be another 45-day comment period and the Final SEIS is expected in September.
Updated information will be posted at http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/btnf. The public is invited to send comments on new information or issues not previously considered in the leasing analysis to Stephen Haydon, Forest Minerals Staff, BTNF, 340 N. Cache, PO Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swap and drill
In the meantime, Stanley Energy of Denver is standing by with its proposal to swap 20,000 acres along the eastern front of the Wyoming Range for access to an adjacent 5,300-acre un-leased “roadless” parcel.
“Stanley’s 21,120 acres acquired in 2005-2006 border to the north, east and south (about) 5,300 acres of un-leased Forest Service land,” it says. “This un-leased acreage is ... presently categorized by the Forest Service as ‘inventoried roadless area;’ under the terms of the 2001 Roadless Conservation Rule (as implemented by Judge Laporte’s Feb. 5, 2002, Order) these 5,300 acres may only be administratively leased if the leases contain a strict non-surface occupancy (‘NSO’) stipulation.”
The company proposes 181 wells from eight well pads covering 50 acres each “to drain the entire potential gas field” at the Bacon Ridge Formation – stating it will honor the “Non-Surface Occupancy” stipulations by using multi-directional drilling from its leases outside that piece. Stanley acquired 21,120 acres of “federal oil and gas leasehold” in the Wyoming Range at auction in 2005-2006 (in addition to 22,500 acres in 1998-1999), according to its proposal). The company is also throwing in a 2,000-acre lease parcel it acquired in 2006.
“Stanley would exchange this combined 20,000 acres to BLM/Forest Service in return for BLM’s issuance (with concurrence of the Forest Service) of oil and gas leases to Stanley on the 5,300 acres ...” the proposal states.
However, Stanley’s leases in that area are suspended at the moment, making the proposal a non-starter, according to Big Piney District Ranger Greg Clark. “We’re looking at the leasing in this SEIS,” Clark said. “We’ve seen (the proposal), we’ve not accepted it and we’re not analyzing it.”
Stanley Energy met with BTNF in May and October last year but Clark said the proposed well pads are located in the contested lease acreage.
“We couldn’t even entertain that right now,” he said of the swap and drill proposal. “We’re not even at the stage to do that.”
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