U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service
today announced a proposal to improve the environmental review process for
oil and gas exploration and development projects under federal lease in
national forests and grasslands. Public comments are being invited on the
proposal for 60 days.

The proposal would allow local forest and grassland units to use a
categorical exclusion when approving surface uses, such as road access,
drill pad construction and pipeline installation, for oil and gas
exploration and development under federal lease.

“Our forest managers have reviewed similar oil and gas projects over the
last five years and have learned that projects of this scale do not carry
significant environmental effects to human health or the environment,” said
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. “This proposal is a result of that
review as well as the agency's commitment to energy conservation in our
national forest and grasslands.”

Projects under this proposed regulation could not include more than up to a
mile each of new and reconstructed road, three miles of pipeline and four
drill sites. Currently, these types of projects require an environmental
assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS), which can take six
months or longer to complete. This proposal would allow the environmental
review process to be completed in about two months.

The proposal would apply only to activities where there are no
extraordinary circumstances related to the project, such as significant
adverse effects on threatened and endangered species or their designated
critical habitat, wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, wetlands,
and archeological or historic sites.

Public involvement opportunities would not be limited in any way under this
action. Individuals would continue to have an opportunity to be involved in
project planning on oil and gas leasing projects prior to their approval.

Categorical exclusions are defined as categories of actions that do not
have a significant effect on the environment and therefore, do not require
an EA or EIS. They are an existing tool provided for under the National
Environmental Policy Act that has been used for decades on a broad range of
land management activities.

Visit www.fs.fed.us to view the Federal Register notice, which includes
instructions on how to send public comments.

The Forest Service manages approximately 193 million surface acres located
in 42 states and Puerto Rico. While the U.S. Department of the Interior is
the chief federal entity that oversees energy activity on public lands, the
Forest Service administers more than 4,600 leases on approximately 4.6
million sub-surface acres in national forests and grasslands. National
forests and grasslands in 25 states hold numerous energy resources,
including coal, oil and gas, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind and

This categorical exclusion may be subject to the Eastern District of
California court ruling, Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck. Therefore,
oil and gas projects using this categorical exclusion may be required to
notice the project to the public, and provide public comment and appeal