On Dec. 2 the Forest Supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Draft Record of Decision (ROD) that address oil and gas leasing on the Pawnee National Grassland (PNG). The draft ROD proposes to make nearly all federally owned and unleased areas of the Grassland available for leasing, subject to a condition of No Surface Occupancy (lessee cannot locate roads, wells, or production equipment on PNG surface). The checkerboard landownership pattern in the area allows for oil and gas resources to be accessed from adjacent private and state lands, as well as existing leases on the PNG where surface occupancy is allowed. This approach allows resource development while reducing the overall environmental impact of that activity in the region.
“Today’s announcement protects the Pawnee’s unique shortgrass prairie ecosystem and recreation opportunities, while still supporting the economic recovery of oil and gas resources from Colorado’s Niobrara Shale reserves,” Forest and Grassland Supervisor Glenn Casamassa said.
Oil and gas production from the PNG is estimated to generate more than $241 million in federal royalties; support more than 1,600 direct, indirect, and induced jobs; and contribute an annual average of $99.7 million per year to the region’s economy over a projected 30-year timeframe.
Current oil and gas lease management on the PNG is conducted under the 1997 Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland Forest Plan direction. New analysis was needed to consider changes to resource development technology, resource demand, and changes in uses of the PNG since 1997. Under its regulations at 36 CFR 228 Subpart E, the Forest Service is responsible for determining leasing availability on National Forest System (NFS) lands, and is also responsible for approval of all surface disturbance associated with oil and gas exploration, development, production, and reclamation activities on the NFS. The Bureau of Land Management oversees leasing and royalties for federal minerals, including oil and gas, and is responsible for environmental reviews of potential sub-surface impacts of proposed leases.
The EIS analyzed three alternatives in detail, including a No Action Alternative (continuing to utilize 1997 Forest Plan direction), a No Lease Alternative, and a No Surface Occupancy Alternative (the Forest Service preferred alternative). The No Surface Occupancy Alternative is preferred because it allows for potential extraction of the underlying oil and gas resources while providing the most protection of surface resources and opportunities for other uses of the PNG. This alternative results in no surface disturbance on any new leases that would be issued on the PNG and the least amount of projected disturbance on adjacent private and state lands. In comparison, the No Leasing Alternative would result in 10 to 60 percent more surface disturbance on adjacent private and state lands.
The draft ROD is subject to the Forest Service’s objection process before a final Record of Decision is made. Under the objection process, objections will only be accepted from those who have previously submitted timely and specific written comments regarding the proposed project during scoping or other designated opportunities for public comment. Issues raised in objections must be based on previously submitted, timely and specific written comments regarding the availability of lands for leasing, unless based on new information arising after designated opportunities for public comment.
Detailed information on the EIS and draft ROD are available online at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/PNGLeasingAnalysis.