Forest Service and BLM Processes for Oil and Gas Development 101- 2- Further Questions Answered

This is in Wyoming.

Despite a general seeming lack of interest in this topic, I’m going to continue because this might be good basic information to have accessible when the next controversy comes up. Many thanks to a helpful individual in the Colorado BLM State Office for answers to these questions.

If there is no or little potential, as in the RFD, then why does it come to the FS in the first place (and make them do all that analysis)?
The Forest Service is responding to a lease nomination from the BLM.  Where does that come from? The BLM gets nominations from folks who are interested in getting leases.  BLM checks on some things,  including, if it is on Forest Service land, whether the area is leasable according to the Forest Service decisions, If it is, BLM forwards the lease nomination to the Forest Service. (Reasonable Foreseeable Development) RFDs do not always keep pace with changes in the industry. An area with low potential might become commercially viable due to changes in drilling and fracking technology, or the discovery of new reserves.
Note that an RFD is an analysis associated with a NEPA decision such as an RMP (Resource Management Plan), somewhat along the lines of a forest management plan.
Which leaves us necessarily with the question:
How often are RMP’s updated?
RMPs typically are in place for 20-30 years in between plan revisions. RMPs are updated from time to time to address maintenance actions or specific issues that were not adequately addressed in the plan.  (very similar to forest management plans).
Why would a company nominate a lease parcel and then not bid on it?
Nominations are anonymous until after the lease sale. Why a company would nominate a parcel and then not bid would be a question better answered by the private sector. (Maybe I can find someone from the industry to answer this, but if it takes a while to nominate, forward, analyze and put out the lease,  it could be changes to the nominators own conditions or analysis.)
How long does a no-leasing decision (such as the decision described for the Ruby Mountains) last?
 The Forest Service can decide to concur or not concur with a private sector nomination that is being handled by the BLM. If the Forest Service does not concur with leasing, the nomination in questions would not be offered. Unless the USFS changes the forest plan, that area is still open to leasing and future nominated parcels would still be processed by the BLM and potentially presented to the USFS for the concurrence.
What’s the overall timeframe for the nomination to be processed by the BLM and sent to the FS?
It can vary quite a bit based on BLM workload and the complexity of the parcel request. Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
What is the timeframe for the FS to make the leasing availability decision?  In the Ruby Mountains example, the nomination was received in 2017, they issued an EA in 2018 and the final decision was March 2019.
What were some things in the forest plan specifically about oil and gas leasing? (from the 2018 EA here).
Forest Plan Desired Conditions:
*The number of leases, permits and operating plans is expected to increase slightly throughout the life of
the plan. Withdrawals and legislative requirements will restrict mineral development on 356,888 acres.
*The Forest will expedite the processing of oil and gas lease applications and locatable mineral proposals.
*Leasable mineral/energy applications will be evaluated on an individual basis. The decision to lease and
site-specific stipulations will be determined on a site-by-site basis. Development activities will be
addressed by an interdisciplinary field analysis and environmental assessment.
Forest Plan Goals:
Goal #36- Administer the mineral resources of the Humboldt National Forest to provide for the needs of
the American people and to protect and conserve other resources.
Goal #38- Expedite oil/gas and geothermal activities.
Goal #39- Reduce the backlog of oil and gas lease applications.
Goal #40- Integrate the exploration and development of mineral and energy resources with the use and
protection of other resources. Use special stipulations identified in Appendix H (of the Forest Plan) for
mineral leases.
Two years seems pretty, fast as FS NEPA analyses go, so it looks like the HT is following the forest plan.  As an observer of other NEPA processes, though, it seems that the nominator of the parcel gets much NEPA work done and then can simply not bid on the parcel with no loss to them, unlike examples of other kinds of proponents funding “third party NEPA.”  While it is understandable that technical and economic conditions can change, it seems like the FS has more skin in the game than the nominator or the BLM, analysis-work wise. Perhaps nominators should have to front a certain amount of the analysis money as their contribution?

2 thoughts on “Forest Service and BLM Processes for Oil and Gas Development 101- 2- Further Questions Answered”

  1. Thanks for looking into this deeper (I’m interested!), and you confirmed my sense that there may be a waste of government resources here. It’s even more of waste if the Forest doesn’t treat a leasing decision as a final forest plan decision applicable to future proposals: “Unless the USFS changes the forest plan, that area is still open to leasing and future nominated parcels would still be processed by the BLM and potentially presented to the USFS for the concurrence.” I would argue that the USFS does change the forest plan when it makes a decision regarding suitability for leasing. To get its money’s worth it should include a plan amendment as part of its decision. If it proposed to allow a lease later, that would be inconsistent with its suitability determination, and should require a complete reanalysis of that question (and probably a plan amendment).

    • Jon, from what I’ve been able to figure out (and I might be wrong), they didn’t have “no leasing” in the forest plan, they had NSO stipulations. Their current decision is “no leasing at this time, based on current conditions”. It’s not exactly a suitability determination, I’m thinking, because it’s a function both of what people want and what the current technologies and economic situation is.


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