The US Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement analyzing 65 oil and gas leases that were issued in the White River National Forest in Colorado from 1995 to 2012. The agency’s preferred alternative in the final EIS would cancel the 25 undeveloped leases, apply new stipulations to the remaining leases that are not currently producing, and make no or only minor adjustments for leases that are producing.
Comments will be accepted for 30 days following the proposed action’s Aug. 5 publication in the Federal Register. It respects the US Forest Service’s 2015 decision to maintain the White River forest’s character while facilitating oil and gas development, BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch said on July 29 as the final EIS was released. “We appreciate all the work that the local community has put into this process,” she added.
BLM initiated the EIS in 2014 after the US Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals identified deficiencies in the leases, which are entirely on lands managed by the White River National Forest (OGJ Online, Apr. 2, 2014).
The Western Energy Alliance, West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, and Public Lands Advocacy jointly formally objected in early 2015 to White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams’s December 2014 draft decision which would have administratively closed nearly 1.3 million acres to leasing, 61,000 of which were in the still high-potential Four Mile-Thompson Divide area where the first well was drilled in 1947 (OGJ Online, Feb. 12, 2015). Acting Deputy Regional Forester James Bedwell rejected most of their objections a few months later.
Fitzwilliams issued a final record of decision on Dec. 3, 2015, which emphasized conserving the White River Forest’s roadless and existing natural character while providing oil and gas development opportunities on lands that have proven to be productive in the past 15-20 years. Emphasizing that Congress would have to make any withdrawal permanent, he said that 1.2 million acres would be administratively closed, while 194,100 acres would remain available for oil and gas leasing with certain stipulations.
BLM said the preferred alternative in its draft EIS is consistent with the one the USFS developed which led up to Fitzwilliams’s ROD, and incorporates much of its information and analysis. It expects to issue its own ROD early this fall, the agency indicated.
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