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Monday, December 22, 2008

More on the Utah land rape

I have been reading up on the gas lease controversy in Utah and frankly getting more and more pissed off. I read several of the field station reports and they want to open up 95% of the Kanab field station area to off road vehicles. Are you kidding? Similar last minute sodomy is occuring in Nevada and Idaho. The Department of the Interior website is so one sided and self serving that it would be downright laughable if not so tragic. Here is one of my favorite passages where drillers are encouraged to paint their equipment to blend in with the scenery. Painting drilling equipment on the boundaries of National Parks is going to fix everything.

Finally, BLM encourages energy developers to use best management practices where appropriate. These best management practices reduce, prevent or avoid adverse environmental or social impacts. Some best management practices include the use of paint colors that help oil and natural gas equipment to “blend” and camouflage with the surrounding areas, using low profile tanks and drilling multiple wells on one well pad to minimize surface disturbance.

I include the following DOI propaganda sheet for your reading displeasure. It seeks to minimize internecine warfare between the DOI and the National Parks Service. I will try to delve further into this in the next few days and show you more accurate information from different sources that is more truthful than the Department's farcical broadside.

Myth vs. Reality - December 2008 Quarterly Oil and Gas Lease
Myth: The Bureau of Land Management Utah December 19, 2008, quarterly oil and gas lease sale is an unnecessary ‘fire sale’ of public lands to energy developers.

Fact: This is an incorrect characterization of the quarterly oil and gas lease sale. The BLM is required by law to conduct lease sales on at least a quarterly basis.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, which authorizes oil and gas leasing on BLM lands, mandates that each BLM state office hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales based on industry-nominated land parcels.

Moreover, the upcoming sale is not a last minute effort to allow for oil and gas development on public lands prior to an administration change. Quarterly oil and gas lease sales are never thrown together. Preparing for a lease sale requires a significant amount of time and extensive analysis and evaluation. It requires a lengthy process to prepare for lease sales.

Myth: There will be oil rigs and gas wells practically under the Delicate Arch, clearly within view of Arches National Park, Canyonlands and Dinosaur National Park, and in Utah’s wilderness.

Fact: Lands in the vicinity of national parks and monuments which could be leased for oil and gas development have strict leasing stipulations to prevent energy development from negatively impacting views from key observation points within national parks and monuments.

Federally designated wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) formally protect wilderness values by being unavailable to oil and gas leasing. BLM does not issue oil and gas leases in federally designated wilderness or WSAs.

Designated Wilderness: A congressionally designated area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primitive character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation that is protected and managed to preserve its natural conditions.

Wilderness Study Area: A roadless area or island of undeveloped federal land that has been inventoried and found to possess wilderness characteristics described under Title VI, Section 603 of FLPMA and Section 2C of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Additionally, BLM Utah, through its land use planning process, has selected certain lands to protect, preserve and maintain their wilderness characteristics. BLM Utah’s completed RMPs for six field offices provide administrative protection to some of these lands—few of which are available for leasing with major constraints such as no surface occupancy and no surface disturbance stipulations, and others are unavailable for leasing.

Non-WSA lands with wilderness characteristics: This is a BLM Utah-specific term referring to an inventory of lands, not a special management designation. Following the 2008 signing of the approved RMPs, BLM selected some of these lands to be managed for their wilderness characteristics. These protected lands are referred to as BLM natural areas.

Examples of major constraints placed on leasing in natural areas: Where natural areas are available for leasing, these parcels have “no surface occupancy” (NSO) stipulations to protect recreation, wildlife, scenery and wilderness characteristics. No surface occupancy is a fluid minerals leasing constraint that prohibits occupancy or disturbance on all or part of the lease surface to protect special values, resources or uses. Lessees may develop the fluid mineral resources under the leases restricted by this constraint through use of directional drilling from locations outside the area.

Numerous parcels have stipulations to protect the habitat of special status species like sage-grouse and Threatened and Endangered Species (T&E) including the golden eagle and Mexican spotted owl. These parcels may also include NSO stipulations within a half mile of the nests.

Leases in natural areas also include stipulations for visual resource management class II and semi-primitive recreation areas. Visual resource management classes are categories assigned to public lands based on scenic quality, sensitivity level, and distance zones and each class has an objective which prescribes the amount of change allowed in the characteristic landscape. The objective for visual resource management class II is to retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be low. Management activities may be seen, but should not attract the attention of the casual observer. Any changes must repeat the basic elements of form, line, color, and texture found in the predominant natural features of the characteristic landscape.

Finally, BLM encourages energy developers to use best management practices where appropriate. These best management practices reduce, prevent or avoid adverse environmental or social impacts. Some best management practices include the use of paint colors that help oil and natural gas equipment to “blend” and camouflage with the surrounding areas, using low profile tanks and drilling multiple wells on one well pad to minimize surface disturbance.

Myth: BLM refused to work with the National Park Service.

Fact: Quite to the contrary, BLM and the Park Service routinely work together on land management issues. The media has mischaracterized the process initially suggested for resolving issues and concerns. When concerns were raised, BLM invited National Park Service managers to sit down together and look at each parcel and its environmental protections. These discussions led to BLM satisfactorily addressing NPS concerns by demonstrating environmental stewardship principles, clarifying protective stipulations and adding lease notices where appropriate. Where National Park Service requested additional time for analysis of other parcels, BLM agreed to defer leasing on those parcels.

The NPS presented their issues in three categories. In two of the three categories, Park Service requested BLM provide certain assurances before agreeing to allow parcels to go forward into the lease sale. Concerns included “exception, modification, and waiver” language in lease stipulations, and ensuring light, sound and view stipulations were stringent enough to protect the experience for Park visitors. Assurances included local Park and BLM managers working together to develop a process of collaboration to address these issues, and a commitment by BLM to add lease notices requiring sound muffling and restricting night lighting where appropriate. BLM provided assurances and NPS agreed that parcels in the first two categories should go forward in the lease sale.

In the third category, NPS requested additional time to review these parcels and conduct further analysis, which could include National Park viewsheds, light and noise, wildlife, water concerns, wilderness recommendations on Arches National Park and groundwater protection. BLM and NPS reached consensus to defer these parcels from the December lease sale. In total, BLM deferred 23 parcels and portions of three other parcels on just less than 38,000 acres at the request of the National Park Service.

Myth: The Bureau of Land Management has refused to remove parcels from the December quarterly oil and gas lease sale.

Fact: In fact, the Bureau of Land Management is required to adhere to an established screening process when considering parcels to be included in a quarterly oil and gas lease sale.

When lands are nominated, a screening process determines parcels’ availability for lease. Nominated parcels are evaluated to ensure land use plan consistency and compliance with laws and regulations. Prior to the public’s review of parcels proposed for the December 2008 quarterly oil and gas lease sale, this step removed 47,045 acres of land from further consideration for leasing.

Next, a list of proposed parcels is released, initiating a 30-day public review period. At the end of this period, BLM conducts a preliminary review of received comments and may remove additional parcels from the sale list. A final list of parcels is released approximately seven days before the sale.

After the sale is held, the BLM does not issue any leases until all protests on those parcels have been satisfactorily resolved. In some cases, protests will be granted and bid money will be returned.

Myth: The BLM arbitrarily and capriciously chooses lands for oil and gas leasing without any regard to significant resources that may be located on those lands or affected by energy development.

Fact: Prior to any quarterly oil and gas lease sale, the BLM first determines which of the nominated lands may be offered for lease. This determination is based upon whether making these lands available for lease is: 1) Consistent with the current resource management plan, 2) Compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act, 3) Compliant with the Endangered Species Act and 4) Compliant with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Through the land use and resource management planning process, BLM lands are placed into one of four oil and gas leasing categories:

Open to oil and gas leasing with standard stipulations
Open to oil and gas leasing with minor constraints
Open to oil and gas leasing with major constraints
Closed to oil and gas leasing
The process of analysis includes:

Nominated lands are closely reviewed to determine if they are eligible and available for oil and gas leasing, consistent with the existing Resource Management Plan (RMP) and in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Land is then delineated into lease parcels not to exceed the maximum allowable acreage of 2,560 acres each. The acreage is computed and special protective stipulations are incorporated based on the existing RMP. A preliminary list of lands is created for internal review.
Field offices review this list to further ensure the lands offered are consistent with the land use plan and in compliance with the NEPA and other resource protection acts such as the National Historic Preservation Act and the Endangered Species Act.
After this internal review, field offices make recommendations to the state office on which parcels to offer for lease. In some cases, they may even recommend withdrawing all or part of a parcel or placing additional stipulations on a lease to protect certain resources. For example, parcels offered for lease near White River include stringent, no surface occupancy stipulations to protect the area’s significant visual, plant, wildlife and recreation resources.
Based on these field office recommendations, the state office prepares and posts a list of proposed lands available for oil and gas lease which initiates a 30-day public protest period.
Prior to the lease sale, a preliminary review of any protests received determines which parcels will be offered for sale.
The competitive lease sale is held.
Protests are formally resolved and,
Leases are issued, or
Received bid money is returned if the protest is granted
Myth: The oil and gas leasing process does not allow for input from or notification of sister agencies such as the National Park Service.

Fact: BLM’s sister agencies are very much involved in the oil and gas leasing process—providing input throughout the land use planning process. In fact, this input is an important part of oil and gas leasing because it allows the agencies to review lands that may be made available for leasing.

Six new Resource Management Plans recently went into effect after many years of development and review—during which time sister agencies reviewed lands near parks and monuments that could be made available for lease and provided extensive input regarding these lands.

The land use planning process ensures that cooperating and any other interested agencies provide input in the determination of availability to oil and gas leasing for lands in the vicinity of national parks and monuments.

For example, BLM Utah traditionally deferred lands adjacent to and near park boundaries, awaiting the finalization of the new Resource Management Plans. During planning, the NPS provided extensive input regarding lands available for leasing in these areas; BLM absorbed the input by modifying or improving environmental constraints as appropriate. Based on NPS input, BLM Utah placed stricter environmental requirements and leasing constraints on public lands in the vicinity of national parks and monuments.

I humbly request that those of you who have got a little religion to pray to the deity of your choice that the next administration will nullify this last minute giveaway of our most pristine natural resources.

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