NSO Stipulations in Pawnee Grassland

png tanksYou all know that I treasure the Denver Post for being western interior media and that I think it’s very necessary for the interior west to have a major media presence to provide some balance to the Coasts. Still I gotta say MOST ANNOYING ADS EVER.

Nevertheless, here is a story of a project I worked on before I retired (or maybe I worked with the NEPA for the exploration and this is the actual project, still I remember a few things about it.). I thought the Jeremy Nichols quote at the end was interesting.

The Forest Service’s recent “no surface occupancy” stipulation for developing oil and gas leases on more than 190,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland is receiving a lukewarm reception from energy industry officials and environmental groups.

This requirement will work for the majority of leases in the grasslands because most of the Pawnee Grassland is accessible by horizontal drilling from adjacent private lands, said Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president for the Western Energy Alliance, an industry trade group.

But the stipulation should not be considered a precedent for proposed oil and gas leases on other federal lands, she said.

“Pawnee is a unique patchwork of federal, state and private lands,” Sgamma said.

In October, the Forest Service announced it would impose the stipulation on proposed oil and gas leases following an 18-month study.

The “no surface occupancy” stipulation protects the Pawnee’s unique shortgrass prairie ecosystem and recreation opportunities, while still supporting the economic recovery of oil and gas, Glenn Casamassa, the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests and Pawnee National Grassland supervisor, said in a statement.

The Forest Service should have extended its oversight to drilling sites on private land adjacent to the grasslands, said Jeremy Nichols of the environmental group WildEarth Guardians.

I’m not aware that the FS currently has regulatory oversight over what happens on private land, adjacent or not. Maybe there’s some new case law since I retired?

7 thoughts on “NSO Stipulations in Pawnee Grassland”

  1. If it’s a federal lease, I think it would be possible for the federal government to include terms that apply to any actions subject to the lease, regardless of where they occur (unless there is something in the leasing regulations that removes that discretion). That should line up with the NEPA requirements to look at the effects of a federal action regardless of where they occur (and perhaps mitigate them with stipulations).

  2. If the actual drilling operations (and their occupancy) occur on the surface of privately owned land, the oversight of those operations resides with the state. The Forest Service’s stipulations only apply to occupancy on federal land surfaces.

    What people want and what is actually under federal jurisdiction can be two totally different things.

  3. Reconciling Tony’s and Jon’s comments above requires understanding the different roles played by BLM and the Forest Service when it keeps to leasing federally-owned minerals that lie beneath a national grassland. Tony is correct that the Forest Service’s authority to regulate the surface stops at the national forest boundary. Jon is correct that BLM, the federal lessor agency, could attach conditions that prescribes how the private leasee accesses these minerals. Because the FS doesn’t actually sell the mineral rights, its in-house knowledge of these rules is limited.

    • Just so you all know, that’s not exactly how these things work in practice, in my experience. There is a national minerals staff headquartered in the R-2 Regional Office who know the most obscure things about BLM leasing. These folks, in my experience, are some of the most blindingly competent in the Forest Service. In addition, every time we had something controversial, we would have discussions with: BLM NEPA and FS NEPA, BLM minerals and FS minerals, BLM wildlife and FS wildlife, and so on.. not to speak of Interior Solicitors and Agriculture OGC attorneys. Because everyone has to agree on what to analyze in the relevant NEPA.

      This is a handy document to answer other questions…


  4. Thanks, that was helpful Sharon. It helped me understand that this PNG decision is a FS ‘availability’ decision, rather than a BLM lease decision. That being the case, it is a forest plan decision, and forest plan decisions are limited to national forest lands. The FS is not particularly up-front that this is a plan amendment. The relationship between the 3 levels of leasing/drilling decisions and the two levels of forest planning/projects was always kind of murky.


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