Wayne National Forest Oil & Gas Leasing Process

PROCESS

  • The federal mineral leasing process is incredibly complex due to the multiple laws that guide oil and gas leasing, and the processes and decision-making authorities that overlap between two federal agencies.
  • Decision-makers in the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rely on oil, gas, and minerals specialists who are responsible for understanding the complexity of the laws and regulations, combined with teams of resource area specialists whose expertise is critical in the environmental analysis and decision-making process.

AVAILABILITY

  • Availability is a decision by the U.S. Forest Service that identifies specific federal minerals beneath National Forest System lands available for leasing.
    • Availability is not authorization (consent) to lease or permission to develop federally owned oil and gas resources.
    • Availability does not address “split estate” parcels where privately owned oil and gas resources are located below National Forest System lands.
  • On the Wayne National Forest, the decision to make all federally owned oil and gas resources available for leasing was made by the Regional Forester when the 2006 Forest Plan was approved.
    • The Forest Plan revision process followed National Environmental Policy Act procedures to guide the analysis and provide multiple opportunities for public participation and input.
    • The surface impact analysis pertaining to oil and gas development was based on projections in the Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario developed by the Bureau of Land Management.
    • The Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario described typical surface activities and acreages associated with horizontal and vertical, shallow well drilling and the projected amount of disturbance and number of wells that might occur over the first decade of the revised Forest Plan.
    • The Forest Plan also includes Standards and Guidelines, and Notifications and Stipulations to protect surface resources if oil and gas development of federally owned minerals occurs on the Wayne National Forest. Notifications and stipulations are applied at the leasing stage, and Standards and Guidelines are applied at the time when specific drilling proposals are submitted to the Forest Service to develop purchased leases.

EXPRESSION OF INTEREST (EOI)

  • An Expression of Interest (EOI) is an informal request to the BLM asking for a specific federally owned oil and gas parcel to be offered for a competitive oil and gas lease sale.
  • If the BLM receives an EOI for a parcel(s) on National Forest System lands, the BLM must receive consent from the Forest Service before offering the requested oil and gas parcel for a competitive oil and gas lease sale.
    • When the Forest Service receives an EOI from the BLM, the parcel is first checked to verify federal ownership.
    • The parcel is also checked for consistency with the Forest Service’s availability decision.
    • If the parcel is available based on the Forest Service’s availability decision, Forest Service consent for the BLM to offer a competitive oil and gas lease sale will also include relevant surface protection measures found in the Forest Plan.
    • The Forest Service does not consider potential subsurface impacts when evaluating an EOI parcel. This authority is held by the BLM.
    • Forest Service consent for an EOI parcel is withheld when:
      • the specific oil and gas resources are not federally owned,
      • the specific oil and gas resources are not available based on the Forest Plan decision,
      • the specific oil and gas resources are not located under National Forest System lands, or
      • evaluation of new information indicates adequate protection for surface resources cannot be implemented. [36 CFR228.102 (1) (e)]
  • In preparation for their parcel lease sale, the BLM conducts a separate environmental analysis of potential surface and subsurface impacts resulting from federally owned oil and gas lease sales.

LEASE DEVELOPMENT

  • Once a lease holder decides to develop their lease, an Application for a Permit to Drill (APD) is submitted to the BLM. The BLM then forwards the lease holder’s APD and Surface Use Plan of Operation (SUPO) to the Forest Service for approval.
  • When the Forest Service receives the APD and SUPO, a site-specific environmental analysis is conducted utilizing NEPA regulations to analyze and disclose effects associated with proposed surface disturbing activities.
    • Analysis of the APD and SUPO is done jointly between the Forest Service and BLM with the Forest Service responsible for analyzing the surface effects related to the SUPO and the BLM analyzing potential subsurface impacts related to the APD.
    • Appropriate Forest Plan standards and guidelines are applied to proposed drilling operations, as well as any additional mitigation measures that are determined to be necessary to minimize impacts to surface resources.
    • Opportunities for public comment are determined by the level of NEPA that is conducted. Additional opportunities for participation beyond NEPA regulations are determined by the Responsible Official.
    • The Forest Service environmental analysis will result in a decision to:
      • approve the SUPO as is,
      • approve the SUPO with additional required conditions to protect surface resources, or
      • disapprove the SUPO for reasons stated in the decision. The lease holder may resubmit a new SUPO to address the reasons for disapproval.
      • It is rare that a SUPO cannot be modified to address environmental concerns related to surface occupancy.
    • The Forest Service approves the SUPO and the BLM approves the drilling plan for the APD, then the BLM issues the approved APD and permits the drilling.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

When does the public get to weigh in on oil and gas development decisions?

To provide input related to potential impacts to the surface resulting from oil and gas development, there are multiple opportunities for public participation during NEPA environmental analyses conducted by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management:

  • The decision that identifies federal lands available to potential oil and gas development was made in the availability decision in the Forest Plan. Development of the availability decision resulted from an environmental analysis guided by NEPA and included opportunities for public input prior to the final decision on availability.
  • After the BLM receives an EOI from an interested developer, and the Forest Service has consented to parcel lease sale, the BLM issues a parcel lease sale decision based on adequacy of environmental analysis.
  • After a parcel lease is sold, an Application for a Permit to Drill is submitted to the BLM and a Surface Use Plan of Operation is forwarded to the Forest Service. An environmental analysis is conducted by the Forest Service involving opportunities for public comment prior to the final decision authorizing surface occupancy.
  • These environmental analyses are focused on potential impacts and protections for surface resources. Responsibility for each analysis and final decision belongs solely to the Forest Service.
  • To provide input related to potential subsurface impacts resulting from oil and gas development there are opportunities for public participation at two decision points:
    • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts environmental analysis guided by NEPA prior to offering federally owned oil and gas parcels for competitive lease sale.
    • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also conducts environmental analysis guided by NEPA prior to authorizing or denying an Application for a Permit to Drill.
    • For further details about the BLM’s public engagement process, please contact the BLM.

Can a member of the public provide “official comments” or appeal the Forest Service’s consent decision for a parcel identified in an Expression of interest (EOI)?

A. The Forest Service welcomes public input at any time related to management of National Forest System lands. However, there is no administrative process for providing “official comments” or challenging the Forest Service’s consent determination for an EOI.

Can the Forest Service refuse to consent to a parcel lease sale identified by an EOI?

  • The Forest Service has limited discretion to refuse to consent to a lease sale for a parcel that has been identified as available.
  • The Forest Service may only refuse to consent if:
    • the specific oil and gas resources are not federally owned,
    • the specific oil and gas resources are not available based on the Forest Plan decision,
    • the specific oil and gas resources are not located under National Forest System lands, or
    • evaluation of new information indicates adequate protection for surface resources cannot be implemented.

Why doesn’t the Forest Service do NEPA analysis or a public participation process to inform its consent decision?

  • During evaluation of an EOI for consent, the Forest Service evaluates the availability decision for consistency and applicable Forest Plan protection measures.
  • There is no regulation or policy requiring the Forest Service to conduct additional NEPA analysis or a public participation process when evaluating an EOI parcel for consent.

Is the Forest Service’s EOI parcel consent determination based on BLM’s NEPA analysis for offering competitive oil and gas lease sales?

  • No. The Forest Service’s consent determination is independent of the BLM’s NEPA analysis.

The BLM says the Forest Service is reviewing the BLM Environmental Analysis (EA) for the EOI parcels that may be offered in a competitive lease sale. Can the Forest Service change the BLM EA?

  • The Forest Service shares data and expertise when requested by the BLM.
  • By law, the adequacy of the analysis and the final decision are the responsibility of the BLM. The Forest Service has no authority to modify the BLM EA.

Does the BLM participate in the Forest Service’s availability decision, or the decision to approve or disapprove the Surface Use Plan of Operation?

  • For the Wayne National Forest’s availability decision (part of the Forest Plan), the BLM prepared a Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario (RFDS), which provided projections of future oil and gas activity. The Forest Service used this document to analyze potential impacts to surface resources.
  • The RFDS is included as an appendix to the Forest Plan Environmental Impact Statement and helped the Forest Service create surface protection measures that will be required by the availability decision.
  • For the environmental analysis supporting the availability decision, and the decision to approve or disapprove the SUPO, the BLM may request to be a cooperating agency, but responsibility for each analysis and final decision is solely the responsibility of the Forest Service.

Who are the Forest Service decision makers?

  • For the Wayne National Forest, the decision maker for the availability decision was the Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region. The availability decision was included in the Record of Decision for the Wayne National Forest’s Land Management Use Plan (Forest Plan) in 2006.
    • The Regional Forester’s decision was based on the analysis in the Forest Plan EIS and the body of public input received during that NEPA process.
  • The decision maker for consent on EOI parcels for the Wayne National Forest is also the Eastern Regional Forester.
    • The Regional Forester’s decision is made with the advice and counsel of the Wayne National Forest Supervisor, and information from teams of specialists who provide specific technical expertise.
  • The decision maker for Surface Use Plan of Operation NEPA analysis on the Wayne National Forest is the Forest Supervisor.

What Forest Service decisions have already been made? What future Forest Service decisions will be made?

  • In 2006, the Regional Forester approved the Forest Plan for the Wayne National Forest, and identified all federally owned oil and gas resources below the Wayne National Forest available for potential leasing.
  • In the past several months, the Regional Forester has consented to several EOI parcels on the Athens Ranger District-Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest.
  • If the BLM decides to lease any parcels, the successful bidder may then submit an Application for a Permit to Drill (APD) to the BLM. If that occurs, the Wayne National Forest will conduct NEPA analysis of the Surface Use Plan of Operation (SUPO) and make a decision to approve or disapprove the SUPO.  This would be a NEPA decision made after public input. 
  • If new EOIs are received by the Forest Service, the Regional Forester will evaluate whether or not the Forest Service consents to those particular parcels being offered for a competitive lease sale.

Oil and gas development technology has changed since 2006 and now includes high volume hydraulic fracturing. Is the Forest Service going to do a new environmental analysis and make a new availability decision?

  • Due to a recognition that technology has changed since 2006, in 2012 the Wayne National Forest undertook an effort to analyze potential surface impacts from high volume hydraulic fracturing. The result of this effort was a Review of New Information (RONI), which was documented in a Supplemental Information Report (SIR).  The SIR has been added to the project record for the availability decision.
  • Based on the RONI and SIR, the Forest Service determined that it can appropriately manage the surface activities from high volume hydraulic fracturing.  The anticipated effects from this drilling technique are not seriously different from what was analyzed in the current Forest Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement.

What is the difference between the BLM NEPA conducted to authorize lease sales, and the Forest Service NEPA conducted when a Surface Use Plan of Operation (SUPO) is submitted?

  • After the Forest Service has consented to a parcel lease sale, the BLM conducts a NEPA environmental analysis in order to offer a parcel lease for sale. This analysis looks at potential surface and subsurface impacts for the parcel leases to be offered for sale. The result is a BLM decision to offer lease parcels for sale. At this stage there is no Application for a Permit to Drill or SUPO to base a site specific environmental analysis on.
  • After a lease has been sold, and the lease owner submits an Application for a Permit to Drill and a SUPO, the Forest Service conducts site specific analysis of the planned surface occupancy and issues a decision describing how potential surface environmental impacts will be managed. If the Forest Service disapproves the SUPO for stated reasons, the lease owner may resubmit a SUPO for approval that addresses the stated Forest Service concerns. Following approval of a SUPO, the BLM conducts site specific NEPA analysis of the subsurface impacts related to the Application for a Permit to Drill.

View current and recent Bureau of Land Management Eastern States oil and gas lease sale notices and results

 





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