Final EIS sets rules for oil, gas exploration in White River Nat’l Forest

RBC I White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams announced on Tuesday the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Record of Decision (ROD) for future oil and gas leasing on the Forest.

The Draft ROD 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 analysis revises the WRNF’s 1993 Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD).
“Today’s decision reflects extensive analysis and public input and represents a balance between providing opportunities for oil and gas development and protecting the natural resources of the White River National Forest,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest Supervisor.
“This was not an easy decision,” he said. “I received significant input from a wide variety of interested people who have a genuine stake in the management of the White River National Forest. The input I received from the public was an important part of my decision-making process.
“In this draft decision, I sincerely tried to be sensitive to the concerns expressed by those who participated in the process,” he said. “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.”
In the draft decision, 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.
“Over one million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production, and another 800,000 acres are legally withdrawn,” Fitzwilliams said. “In addition, I have decided to close 213,000 acres of the White River National Forest to leasing 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.
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.
The draft 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: 194,123 acres will be Administratively Available for Leasing; Of the 194,123 available acres, 118,613 acres are lands not already leased; and Of the 74,493 acres of Designated Roadless Areas made available for oil and gas leasing, all would have a No Surface Occupancy Stipulation; and 800,555 acres are Legally Closed to Oil and Gas Leasing (including Congressionally designated Wilderness, permitted ski areas, campgrounds and administrative sites.)
Also: 1,243,865 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 213,000 acres were closed in order to protect other forest resources and maintain the natural character of the area. This includes 61,000 acres of the Four-Mile/Thompson Divide Area
Also: 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 with the 2015 White River National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing EIS and ROD.
Objections, including attachments, must be filed via mail, fax, email, hand-delivery, express delivery, or messenger service (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays) to: Reviewing Officer c/o USDA Forest Service, Region 2, Rocky Mountain Region, Attn. Objection Reviewing Officer-Planning Department, 740 Simms Street, Golden, Colo. 80401-4720, Fax: 303-275-5134, or e-mail to r02f15admin_review@fs.fed.us 
Objections must be submitted within 60 calendar days following the publication of this notice in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The legal notice is expected to be posted on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. The publication date in the newspaper of record is the exclusive means for calculating the time to file an objection. The Final EIS and all associated documents can be found on the web at:  www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver