RBC I White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams announced on Thursday the release of the Final Record of Decision (ROD) for future oil and gas leasing on the forest.
The Final ROD approves the document that 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. This decision finalizes the analysis that revises the Forest’s 1993 Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD).
“This final decision concludes a long and complex process; we have spent the better part of five years gathering data, analyzing and considering public input,” Fitzwilliams said. “I believe the decision outlined in the Final ROD represents a balance between providing opportunities for oil and gas development and protecting the natural resources of the White River National Forest.
“The public input we received and the consideration of other resource values such as recreation and wildlife was an important part of my decision-making process,” he said. “In this decision, I sincerely tried to be sensitive to the concerns expressed by those who participated in the process. In the end, my responsibility as forest supervisor is to consider this input along with the results of the environmental analysis and the laws governing national forest management.”
Fitzwilliams 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.
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.
A Draft ROD was released in December 2014 with the regional objections review completed in June 2015.
Seven objections were received after the release of the Draft ROD. The objections review found no violation of law, regulation or policy and upheld the draft ROD, with instructions.
Through the final analysis process, lands were either made administratively available for leasing, deemed legally closed for future oil and gas leasing due to law or regulation, or closed through management direction.
“Over 1 million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production,” Fitzwilliams said. “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,” he said. “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 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 ensure surface resources are protected.
The essential elements of the Draft Record of Decision are as follows: 194,100 acres will be administratively available for leasing; of the 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; and 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: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/home/?cid=STELPRD3824477.