BTNF releases Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Wyoming Range Oil and Gas leases
by Bridger-Teton National Forest
April 10, 2016
The Bridger-Teton National Forest has released the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for oil and gas leasing on National Forest System lands in the Wyoming Range.
The Draft SEIS for 30 parcels across 39,490 acres of National Forest land contains an analysis of four alternatives:
• Alternative 1 – No Action/No Leasing – Forest Service would withdraw consent to lease on the 30 parcels
• Alternative 2 – Allow leasing on all 30 parcels using current Forest Plan standards. The expected development is for 24 wells with direct development of pads and roads on 107 acres over a landscape of 10,405 acres
• Alternative 3 – Allow leasing on all 30 parcels, using current Forest Plan standards as well as additional stipulations that respond to enhanced resource protection, primarily for big game and aquatic habitat.. This alternative incorporates Wyoming Game and Fish Department recommendations. The expected development is for 13 wells because of No Surface Occupancy(NSO) on some parcels with direct development of pads and roads on 58 acres over a landscape of 5324 acres
• Alternative 4 – Allow leasing on all 30 parcels with NSO at all. The expected development is for less than 10 wells with very minimal direct development on lands adjacent to the project parcels.
In 2011, the Forest withdrew its decision for no leasing on these parcels. The Forest Service identified the need to supplement the air quality analysis and the wildlife analysis, as well as consider new information on issues such as protection of threatened animals, impacts on local air quality, other energy projects underway in the area, and public comments. The Draft SEIS discloses the new and updated information and anticipated environmental consequences.
The Forest Supervisor has identified Alternative 1 as the preferred alternative. She will review comments received on the Draft SEIS, and prepare a draft Record of Decision to be released with the Final SEIS. The Final SEIS is expected in October 2016, and the decision is expected in January 2017, after any objections have been resolved. The new decision will supersede previous decisions on these 30 lease parcels.
"I will be considering all the alternatives and the environmental impacts associated with each to determine the best course of action," said Bridger-Teton Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor. "No single factor will lead me to any decision. I am confident that by allowing the process to work, I will better be able to weigh the combination of the sensitivity and values of the area, the value of the project to communities, the magnitude of other activities currently underway or planned with potentially cumulative impacts, and the concerns of citizens, organizations and other agencies before making the final decision. I welcome public comments, especially those that are specific to benefits or impacts of this project on natural resource or social issues important to you"
The Draft SEIS can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48737 Previous comments were considered in the preparation of the Draft SEIS. In order for comments to be most useful and to ensure eligibility to participate prior to the final decision, specific written comments must be received within 45 days of the publication of the Notice of Availability of the Draft SEIS in the Federal Register. The anticipated publication date is April 8, 2016, which would result in a comment deadline of May 23, 2016. Please visit the project website for publication confirmation and additional comment requirements. Comments must be submitted in writing (either by letter or electronic). Letters should be sent to: Donald Kranendonk, District Ranger, Big Piney Ranger District, Bridger-Teton National Forest, 10418 South U.S. Highway 189, P.O. Box 218, Big Piney, WY 83113. Electronic comments can be submitted via: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48737 (Select "Comment on Project" on right side of Web page). Comments will be accepted through May 23, 2016.
The draft Record of Decision will be released with the new Final SEIS, and will be subject to the Forest Service Pre-decisional Administrative Review (Objection) Process described in the Code of Federal Regulations, 36 CFR 218. Following those regulations, a draft of the decision will be made available with the Final SEIS. Those who have submitted timely, specific written comments regarding this project during any of the comment periods will be eligible to file an objection to that draft decision.
"A final decision will not be made until the Forest Service has responded to any objections," said O’Connor.
The original leasing availability decision was made in the Bridger-Teton Forest Plan in 1990, which identified land with the National Forest where oil and gas leasing could be considered. More recently, in 2004 the Forest Service decided to authorize leasing of the 44,720 acres within the Bridger-Teton National Forest, a move that allowed the Bureau of Land Management to offer these lease parcels for oil and gas exploration and development. Leases were offered in several sales in 2005 and 2006. Those decisions were appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which found appellants were likely to succeed on the merits of their challenges of inadequate environmental analysis. After the Board’s finding, BLM requested a remand to allow additional analysis focused on Canada lynx and air quality. Upon the remand, BLM suspended 12 issued leases and classified as "pending" action on 23 parcels were lease were sold but not issued. Upon the remand, BLM suspended 12 issued leases and classified as "pending" action on 23 parcels where leases were sold but not issued. After a determination that the environmental process was inadequate, the Forest Service completed a SEIS and decision in 2011. This was subsequently withdrawn, thus the need for this additional analysis and new decision. In 2014-2015 parcels were removed from further leasing consideration by the bidders, making the new project analysis for 39,490 acres on 30 lease parcels.
Public scoping conducted in February 2008 and a review of new information by the Forest Service identified several key issues warranting the supplemental analysis. These include designation of critical habitat for Canada lynx, potential cumulative effects of rapid and continually expanding energy development in the Upper Green River Basin, proposed designation of nonattainment areas for air quality standards, visibility impairment of Class I Air Sheds, decline in mule deer populations and increased recreation use. These issues and others form the basis for the Draft Supplemental environmental analysis.