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Oil, gas, and the roadless rule: too complex for newspapers?

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Sharon Friedman | Sep 20, 2011 05:00 AM

Editor's note: Sharon Friedman blogs on forest policy at "A New Century of Forest Planning" and will be posting occasionally on the Range blog. 

As you all know, I think it's really important that the public gets a chance to understand Forest Service (publicland, natural resource) issues so they can make informed choices. The problem is that institutions such as policy centers don't really help on the day to day issues and don't necessarily allow dialogue with the public on the web; I hope this blog helps with that. News stories are intended to help inform the public, but by their very nature and the current structure of the news industry, I don't think they can ever be the right place. 

roan plateau

Even if the journalist takes the time to understand the complexity, and is committed to presenting both sides fairly, there is no guarantee that that can fit into a newspaper article format. It seems like a structural problem that falls somewhere between the Extension role and a journalism role. So in this case I will take a news story and try to clarify the issue according to my understanding.This one I know something about (although I am not currently working on this, just to be clear), so I thought by posting here I could help share with readers my understanding of the somewhat arcane and confusing oil and gas terminology and processes (of course readers are interested in forest planning, so arcane and confusing is familiar territory :) ). Here's the link. I also need to clearly state that I am not saying that the proposed rule is without flaw and directly transmitted by a Higher Power. I just think it's important to understand what the issues really are. If we, who know, don't inform the public, who will? Below is the story with my annotations in italics.

Amid efforts to protect Colorado's pristine forests, drilling rights makes inroads

PARACHUTE — While top environmental stewards in Washington, D.C., fine-tune a plan to protect 4.2 million acres of roadless public forests in Colorado, regional Forest Service managers are opening some of that land to oil and gas drilling.

Drilling rights for several thousand acres in the Elkhead Mountains west of Steamboat Springs and the Mamm Peak area on the Western Slope are to be auctioned in November.

Forest Service officials at the agency's regional headquarters in Denver declined to comment. Federal Bureau of Land Management officials confirmed the lease sale.

"It's up to the Forest Service, and we don't want to second-guess their decisions on how they manage federal lands," BLM spokesman Steven Hall said.

The offering of access to minerals under pristine roadless national forest land has injected new rancor into the wrangling over plans to protect last remaining roadless forests in Colorado and other Western states.

"It's looking like the current Forest Service regional leadership gives lip service to roadless area protection," said Mike Chiropolos, lands program director for Western Resource Advocates, "but its actions don't match its words."

It seems to me that somewhere in the previous paragraphs it should have been made clearer that these leases have what are called "No Surface Occupancy" stipulations which means that the gas will be accessed from outside the roadless area through directional drilling. "NSO's", as they are known, prohibit surface occupancy, including well pads and roads.

Now I'm not sure exactly how that could affect a roadless area's "pristine"- ness, since neither fish, wildlife nor humans can tell whether that gas is being pumped out. If they are claiming otherwise, I and others would be very interested to know more.

The proposed lease sale also highlights a growing peril of the lengthy crafting of a plan to protect roadless forests: As decisions are delayed, incursions keep happening.

These leases are also allowed under the 2001 Rule. So frankly I can't draw any line at all between the Colorado process ("lengthy crafting of a plan", who else could the author mean?) and leases under roadless, even if I agreed that it's an "incursion."

An aerial survey of several contested areas on Friday by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership revealed dozens of roads constructed over the past decade — many leading to well pads carved out of forest.

Clearly this didn't occur on areas with NSO stipulations, so it's not clear to me how is this relevant to the topic.

"We want to make sure the highest-value areas are safeguarded," said Nick Payne, Colorado field representative for the partnership, a national advocacy group.

Forest Service managers "should not be leasing parcels on roadless areas right now, until the rule is passed. Then we'll have firm guidelines," Payne said.

I don't know what is meant by "firm guidelines", nor what they are intended to do"; IMHO it would have been helpful to ask for more specificity from Payne here.

The core question many residents of western Colorado face is whether they stand to gain more in the long run from recreation industries, which require pristine forests, or mining and other extractive industries that need roads.

Interesting assertions. Does the recreation "industry" require "pristine" forests? On my recent vacation in Alaska, I noticed a lot of recreationists on roads. I see people having a great time on 14ers with mining roads, from which you can see dams, roads, towns, etc. And what exactly does "pristine" mean? If it means "untouched by human impacts," does that include air pollution and climate change? Do human trails cause something to become "unpristine"t?

You want to write with colorful, meaningful words.. but there is a tension between writing the readable and being careful so people understand the issue.

And going back to the topic, since NSO's require no roads in roadless areas, this must be an argument against oil and gas drilling at all outside of roadless areas.

Hunting outfitter Jim Bryce, making a supply run from his camp in the currently roadless Currant Creek area this week, said roads into that contested pristine habitat would ruin his business. Currant Creek provides habitat for elk and deer.

But these leases have NSOs, so there would be no roads. So...????

Coal-mining companies that supply power plants in the eastern U.S. oppose roadless protection because they seek access to reserves.

"If they go in there and punch in coal mines and make roads, it'll be just another area cut up by roads. This whole country is getting cut up, and it affects the wildlife and everything else," said Bryce, 59, based in Delta, who has run his company for 31 years.

Oxbow Mining employs more than 300 miners at its Elk Creek mine nearby, and neighboring mines employ at least 700 more.

I don't know how coal (which needs roads to vent methane but is allowed on only 20 K or so acres in the proposed rule) even entered this story which has the topic "NSO leases advertised."

By early next year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to decide on the plan Colorado officials and regional foresters hashed out together over several years.

It offers top-tier protection to about 13 percent of the land protected under the Clinton-era roadless rule, which blocks most road-building on 4.4 million of the 14.5 million acres of national forest in Colorado.

Federal courts still are scrutinizing that 2001 rule. The Colorado proposal would make exceptions for mining, logging and ski-area expansion.

I would object to the use of the term "logging" used here. That usually implies trees going to mills. I think this sentence would be more accurate and clearer if it said "20K acres for the North Fork Coal Mines, fuels treatments for 1/2 mile around communities and 8K acres for ski area expansion. This week, at least, I think fire protection for communities would resonate differently from "logging." Also the writer's choice to use the acres as I did, calculate them as a percentage of the total (e.g. 20K/4.2 mill=.005%) or not include acreages are all accurate in their own way but may be perceived differently (FWIW, I would have used the acres and let the reader do the math).

Environmental Protection Agency​ officials have urged the Forest Service to ensure top-tier protection for more land.

The drilling rights that federal foresters are offering have had stipulations attached in the past, limiting surface activities. Exceptions can be made.

This sentence is not clear to me. But it would seem to be a good time to mention that the proposed Colorado Rule has specific restrictions against changing such stipulations after the lease is sold.

Energy companies also can drill horizontally so that wells adjacent to roadless forests could be used to extract gas and oil.

Some groups, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, support that approach to development. Others do not.

"The impact of more energy development is going to result in more fragmentation, more isolation, of that roadless area," said Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, who noted that the Forest Service already has approved 70 wells in the Mamm Peak area, where lynx, a threatened species, have been found.

"Lynx and other wildlife are using this area as a movement corridor, and connectivity is necessary to ensure that these species can survive," Hart said.

This is either a question of 1) not trusting the NSOs to stay in place or 2) saying that even if the drilling occurs outside roadless areas, it still impacts roadless areas. I can't really tell which. The Mamm Peak wells were approved based on existing leases without NSO's (as far as I know) so, again, not clear that that's relevant.

It seems like this story is really about "some people don't like leasing in roadless areas in Colorado, even if no roads or pads are allowed in the roadless areas. They don't think there is sufficient regulatory certainty or they think ???".

This would be an interesting story to read, at least to me. In fact, this is exactly the kind of question that would profit from some respectful blog discussion, IMHO. But maybe that would be too short or too specific (or wonky) to fit a newspaper article or newspaper buyers might not want to read it. What do you think?

Essays in the Range blog are not written by the High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Image of the Roan Plateau with energy development.

 

Pete Kolbenschlag
Pete Kolbenschlag Subscriber
Sep 20, 2011 04:04 PM
1st--Tens of thousands of citizens commented on the proposed CO Roadless Rule, currently in draft form. Some of those comments suggested that the USFS needs to consider a 'no leasing' option for analysis. Until the USFS considers these comments, and provides its required response in an FEIS, it seems prejudicial to lease these lands.

2nd-It is not entirely clear how 'permanent' (goes to the 'uncertainty' you speak of) these stipulations are, as the proposed rule does not contemplate NSO stipulations for roadless lands (only no road building stips, which is a different thing--especially since the proposed rule includes wiggle room that would allow roads for some leases, depending on the decision made by the USFS. There are reasonably foreseeable scenarios where new roads for development would be allowed in roadless areas under the proposed rule. The actual wording for the stipulations, particularly for lands not recommended for wilderness, is unclear exactly when or how the NSO stips could go away. For instance:
"Battlement Mesa Roadless Area (now known as Mamm Peak) – On portions (or all, whichever is applicable) of the lands as shown on the attached map,
Exhibit A.
For the purpose of:
Protecting the Roadless character of the area.
Any changes to this stipulation will be made in accordance with the land use plan and/or the regulatory provisions for such changes." So what happens when a new rule is issued, with an effective date of say 2012, that supplements the forest plan for those areas, and puts in place no roadbuilding stips only (with the aforementioned wiggle room)? Do the NSO stips still apply, or do the new regulations promulgated by the rule apply? Perhaps we will only learn after the industry takes the matter to court. Not an unreasonable assumption.

Finally, I believe that in many case NSO stipulations are waivable, modifiable or exemptable, depending not only on the facts-on-the-ground but also things like political administrations. The USFS has said it is intent on finalizing this rule by early 2012, so what's the rush to lease these lands now--under any regime? Lease sales are quarterly, the next ones would be in Feb/Mar, then May/June.

Would it really harm industry or the USFS to wait an additional 6 months (two more sales) until these matters are resolved, citizen comments are addressed, and there is better understanding of what exactly management for CO's roadless National Forests will be? I, for one, do not think so.

Mamm Peak is pretty high, drilling is likely to wait until at least next summer under almost any scenario--and that is if NatGas crawls back from its currently near-record low, since drilling in the Piceance (especially in remote locations like the Battlements) is barley cost effective now as it is, particularly relative to the massive shale plays back east.
Jesse Tigner
Jesse Tigner
Sep 21, 2011 07:59 AM
Interesting piece and comments thus far. Just two comments on technicalities…

1) Admittedly I am not very familiar with the industry in Colorado, but drilling in Canada is routine during winter months. In fact in the far north—northern boreal and Arctic—drilling really only occurs during the winter when the ground is frozen and able to support people, equipment, etc… Winter in these spots routinely see temps between -30 to -40 C (and just to note -40 C = -40 F) for weeks at a time.

It is unlikely that a parcel auctioned in the next few weeks or months would be drilled this winter though as sufficient exploration would be required so that wells could be drilled in the proper locations. That said Colorado does have a bit of a reputation for the unfortunate practice of wildcatting—drilling wells as exploration—so who knows.

2) Pads can absolutely be built with no road access. It is not routine, but does occur fairly often esp. in Canada and Russia. These pads must be larger than conventional well pads in order to provide landing for large helicopters, but pad size is increasing with the growing implementation of multi-well pads (putting >1 well head on a single pad—sometimes as many as 17 heads!). This most often occurs where operations are occurring far from existing roads or access points and putting in a new road would cost a lot of time and or money.

Think of a roadless well pad as akin to an off shore rig.
Pete Kolbenschlag
Pete Kolbenschlag Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 08:33 AM
Thanks Sharon-

NSO stips and no road building stips are not the same thing.

My question is what happens to the NSO stips once a rule is finalized? Do they become merely no road building stips? As the other commenter points out, drilling without roads is possible. Is it feasible or economically viable? Who knows. Technologies change quickly, new resource targets become available, volatile commodity prices fluctuate, new customers (think China/India and LNG export now the Ruby pipeline is being completed)come on line.

No offense, but the agency often fails in imagination, pretending that the resource use of the past is the resource use of the future. Consider the San Juan NF plan, not even finalized and now being supplemented because of the sudden interest in shale gas and the possibility of hundreds of unforeseen wells. It's not like shale gas wasn't in the news when the draft was being drafted and discussed, it just wasn't in the news yet for the Paradox...so it wasn't considered as reasonably foreseeable. Whoops.

Finally, the proposed rule does in fact allow new roads for oil and gas development inside roadless areas. If a lease is both within and without a roadless area, at the USFS discretion, the operator can build the road into/through the roadless lands if it would be 'less environmentally harmful' than to stay without. Problem is, such a notion of what is 'less' or 'more' is nowhere defined--its up to the discretion of the USFS, and--as we all know--how such discretion is exercised changes from individual to individual or from administration to administration. In the case of these leases, they are entirely within roadless lands. But the proposed rule is totally silent on what happens after unitization. Suppose these roadless leases are unitized with adjacent leases outside the roadless area? What then? Would the wiggle room noted above now suddenly apply? Would it provide an opportunity for the operator to argue that in court or before the IBLA? Seems enough of a crap shoot to cause me concern.

Seems that given that the proposed rule does not, in fact, include NSO stips (waivable or not) but no-roadbuilding stips, and it is at least reasonable to assume that someday such could be developed without roads; that wiggle room in the proposed rule could very well allow new roads inside roadless areas; and, that it is not at all clear whether these NSO stipulations would remain in force after a rule is finalized (or whether it would revert to the weaker no road-building stips); it seems prudent to wait a few months before leasing these lands.

It is not like someone arguing that motorized use should end (which, of course, the proposed rule does not contemplate at all, in any case, or in any way) therefore the USFS should end all use until the rule is finalized. As we all both know, the agency in fact has authority to determine which of its lands will be available for leasing, in any particular sale or at all. It is not illegal in any shape or form for the USFS to say--'we are finalizing this rule and will wait until that time to consider whether these lands will be available for leasing.' Closing routes/roads etc. would require a TMP or emergency action; not so with withholding a particular parcel, or few parcels, from a particular lease sale.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 02:22 PM
Sorry everyone, I didn't realize that comments can't use html , so I had a comment up there with HTML and Pete responded to it. So it was removed for me to remove the HTML but I need to have enough time to do that so will have to wait until after work. I'll repost and respond to Pete and Jesse after work tonight.
This is my first post on the Range blog so I'm here somewhere low on the learning curve...
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 05:15 PM
So here is the response to Pete's first comment, which lead to Pete's second comment.

Pete, I wrote this comment in html so hopefully it will be readable. Thanks so much for participating in this dialogue! This is exactly the kind of conversation that is helpful in informing the public.

So let me address your points.

You said:

“Tens of thousands of citizens commented on the proposed CO Roadless Rule, currently in draft form. Some of those comments suggested that the USFS needs to consider a 'no leasing' option for analysis. Until the USFS considers these comments, and provides its required response in an FEIS, it seems prejudicial to lease these lands.”

I don’t think that if you look at all public comments about everything, it is wise or even feasible to do (or not do) anything every commenter suggests or suggests not to. If a commenter said they didn’t think people should use trails (motorized or other) in roadless areas, as it was disruptive to wildlife, for example, would we stop people from using trails?

My understanding is that people should follow the current law of the land and regulations until a new rule is officially promulgated. It is confusing, but it seems to me that NOT doing that would be prejudicial, or likely illegal.

BTW, everyone seems very fond of the 2001 Rule (although it is currently enjoined in the 10th Circuit), and that Rule allows leasing. So even if it were clearly in place, leasing would be still be OK.

“It is not entirely clear how 'permanent' (goes to the 'uncertainty' you speak of) these stipulations are, as the proposed rule does not contemplate NSO stipulations for roadless lands (only no road building stips, which is a different thing--especially since the proposed rule includes wiggle room that would allow roads for some leases, depending on the decision made by the USFS. “

Drat it, Pete, I had to go look up the proposed rule because I hadn’t worked on it for a long time. So here is the proposed rule:

“Oil and Gas Lease Stipulations. Oil and gas leases issued within a Colorado Roadless Area after [final rule effective date] will prohibit road construction/reconstruction. The Forest Service shall not authorize the Bureau of Land Management to grant any request for a waiver, exception, or modification to any oil or gas lease if doing so would result in any road construction within a Colorado Roadless Area.

I read this as “no WEMs (waivers, exceptions or modifications) for roadbuilding any leases, regardless of whether they were leased before or after the effective date. Therefore I don’t see the NSO stips on the November 2011 leases being waived to allow roadbuilding if the Colorado Rule comes into effect. If the 2001 Rule returns, as many have been arguing the 10th Circuit will do (any day now for years..) the WEMs for roadbuilding would not be allowed either.


I see that you are making a fine point, that there would still be no roads but the NSO stips could be waived to allow surface occupancy. This means well pads. So this is a good time to get into a deeper discussion. Right now we can only build well pads with roads, so they would have to be adjacent to the roadless area boundary.

Are you concerned that at some point in the future, technology would allow well pads without roads, so that you would want the NSO’s themselves unwaivable (not sure this is a word)? You would like the Colorado Roadless Rule sentence above to say “result in road construction or other surface occupancy.”

I still don’t understand how you are thinking there is wiggle room for road building, though.

You also said:

“Finally, I believe that in many case NSO stipulations are waivable, modifiable or exemptable, depending not only on the facts-on-the-ground but also things like political administrations. “

Maybe you are worried about the NSO’s being waived before the Colorado Rule goes into effect? I don’t think the administration is going to change before then, and once the Colorado Rule is in place I think the language above would take care of the roads, not the surface occupancy.

“The USFS has said it is intent on finalizing this rule by early 2012, so what's the rush to lease these lands now--under any regime? Lease sales are quarterly, the next ones would be in Feb/Mar, then May/June. Would it really harm industry or the USFS to wait an additional 6 months (two more sales) until these matters are resolved, citizen comments are addressed, and there is better understanding of what exactly management for CO's roadless National Forests will be? I, for one, do not think so. “

I guess one person’s “rush to lease” is another person’s “following the current law of the land.” I suspect that what you see as speedy is way slow to the people who have been interested in these parcels for awhile.
  
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 05:23 PM
Jesse, thanks, I have always been interested in the technologies. Just so everyone knows the 2001 Roadless Rule is a "roadless" rule, and not what I would call a "structureless" rule. So ski towers, cell towers, wellpads are all OK as long as you do not build a road to access them. It seems like by not allowing NSO's in a Colorado Rule, or arguing that that should be the case, you are 1)clearly upping the ante from the 2001 AND 2) singling out one business that uses structures for this attention. Why does Colorado need a "structureless" rule if everyone else gets a "roadless" rule? If that does not seem right, then shouldn't you also argue that the 2001 needs to be redone to make it a "structureless" rule?
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 06:20 PM
Pete- the comments above after the word "technologies" were addressed to you. Sorry for the confusion, Jesse.


I know that NSO’s and NR’s are not the same, sorry if I was unclear above.

Here’s where we are: these leases have NSO’s. Based on my understanding and the rule quote above, the NSO’s could be waived but the NR’s are forced to stay through the rule language.

Assuming Jesse is correct, pads without roads are possible. So that looks like a loophole. ONLY if you think the policy should be no surface occupancy, not no roads. If you think the roadless rule should instead be a structureless rule, then you have the issues of “why are structures OK under 2001 but not under Colorado” as well as why are wellpads not OK but other structures are? When my electric utility raises my rates to convert coal plants to natural gas, they tell me that natural gas is good for the environment. So why would we single out gas wells, of all possible structures, to not be allowed?

Your second statement

“Finally, the proposed rule does in fact allow new roads for oil and gas development inside roadless areas. If a lease is both within and without a roadless area, at the USFS discretion, the operator can build the road into/through the roadless lands if it would be 'less environmentally harmful' than to stay without. Problem is, such a notion of what is 'less' or 'more' is nowhere defined--its up to the discretion of the USFS, and--as we all know--how such discretion is exercised changes from individual to individual or from administration to administration. In the case of these leases, they are entirely within roadless lands. But the proposed rule is totally silent on what happens after unitization. Suppose these roadless leases are unitized with adjacent leases outside the roadless area? What then? Would the wiggle room noted above now suddenly apply? Would it provide an opportunity for the operator to argue that in court or before the IBLA? Seems enough of a crap shoot to cause me concern.”

Are you talking about this section? This is for pre-existing leases that were leased allowing roads and is intended to restrict those leases to the extent that is legally possible. Not leases that were issued with road or surface occupancy prohitions.
294.45 b3
Restrict road construction for leases partially within Colorado Roadless Areas, to the extent practical,
to portions of the lease outside of Colorado Roadless Areas except when doing so will be substantially more
environmentally damaging, compromise safety standards, or is unfeasible due to topography or surface conditions

Or are you thinking of another clause of the rule?

Is your concern that if a new lease would be issued, it could be unitized with a pre-existing lease that allowed roads, and the roadbuilding prohibition thereby removed? I don’t really see how the rule could be read that way. Maybe some proposed language would be helpful.

You said:

“Seems that given that the proposed rule does not, in fact, include NSO stips (waivable or not) but no-roadbuilding stips, and it is at least reasonable to assume that someday such could be developed without roads; that wiggle room in the proposed rule could very well allow new roads inside roadless areas; and, that it is not at all clear whether these NSO stipulations would remain in force after a rule is finalized (or whether it would revert to the weaker no road-building stips); it seems prudent to wait a few months before leasing these lands.”

You seem to be hinging this argument on a trajectory towards a “structureless” rule. I don’t see that as a very realistic trajectory for the two reasons I stated above: 1) it is a major policy call to go from a roadless rule to a structureless rule, which does not have a great deal of public support. I haven’t seen this comment period’s comments, but I have seen five years of other comments and there was not a great deal of interest. Also, the 2001 Rule was roadless not structureless and many people like it.

2) Even if this policy call were to be considered (“structureless” instead of “roadless”), it would be arbitrary and capricious to single out wellpads- there would have to be some rationale for what kinds of structures were allowed and which weren’t.

I don’t agree with you on the “wiggle room” as noted above. It seems to me that you would prefer the ultimate policy call in the final rule to be NSO’s and not “no roads” as it was in the proposal. If you delay the leases, and the rule calls for NSO’s, we would be where we are today only later. If you delay and the rule says no roads, you get less of what you want than if you had let the leases go with NSO’s in November.

Note to general readers:

I hope you are following my more general points:

1) The news story did not do the controversy justice; nor really could it have. If you went into it deeply enough to understand it, there aren’t many of the reading public that would want to follow you there. (!!)
2) Trying to open up the dialogue requires expertise and time. It is no one’s job. For now I feel a passion around it and have made it a hobby. The interest of pure "bringing out the issues" is not funded by anyone, but Interests, such as Pete or the oil and gas industry, certainly are. If you "get what you pay for" you get two sides with no common ground. Should there be institutions where people are paid to look deeper into these controversies and engage in civil dialogue? The only example I know of is Keith Allred’s the Common Interest. http://thecommoninterest.org/v2/Default-15.aspx
Pete Kolbenschlag
Pete Kolbenschlag Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 11:40 PM
First off, like you my passion and my career dovetail. Yes, I work for environmental groups. But the USFS is not exactly a 'disinterested party' in this debate (nor neutral, defending quite robustly its preferred action in the RDEIS).
I'll have to revisit the rule language on the 'wiggle room' issue. Maybe I mistook that. I’ll get back to you with the citation. Of course, many of those ‘pre-existing leases’ were let—in many minds—illegally when the 2001 Rule was in place, and could now be grandfathered in. Had they been let with NSO stips in the first place, as they should have been, then that wouldn’t be as much of a concern.
Idaho has a roadless rule too, the only other state (besides Colorado) that decided to forge ahead with its own rule rather than stick with the National Rule. What are the o&g stips attached in that rule for the most protected lands? I seem to recall that the Colorado state Task Force recommended NSO stips for future leases, not just NRs. But those files are long buried so I will dig them up to verify. The discussion ended there anyhow, I believe, even if that wasn’t in the Gov’s petition. So it’s not an idea invented out of thin air.
 Since the stated purpose for a state-specific rule is to tailor it more to Colorado, I am unsure why some (or all) the roadless lands here could not include some stronger prescriptions. I do particularly think that the upper tier lands need NSO, although--certainly--I would like to see them in all the roadless lands. Again, exactly which lands will be in or out of any upper tier is not yet decided, certainly many if not the vast majority (probably) of comments urged more lands be placed in this more protective category—including the US EPA. Again, leasing these lands now seems problematic, especially since the NSO stipulations might go away once a rule is finalized (or are waivable, even if the NR stips are not). Many groups and individuals—I am pretty confident—especially urged that NSO stipulations apply (nonwaivably, if I may continue to invent words) to the upper tier lands.
And that is my original point; it seems problematic (to me and others) to lease these lands now when we are likely to have a final rule in 6 months or less. There is uncertainty on what the status of these roadless lands will be (upper or lower tier?) and what, precisely, the final rule will say as to the stipulations that apply to either or both. I trust that the USFS is considering the comments carefully, so why give the impression it may not be?
The Colorado rule already changes, substantively, the parameters and protections of the 2001 Rule, generally weakening them, so I am unsure why it cannot also be strengthened without changing the whole thing from one beast to another.
Finally, Natgas is not 'good' for the environment, despite what your utility company tells you. It's better than coal. There is, quite obviously, a significant difference. Gas wells are not 'good' for wildlife habitat, often not good for water quality, detrimental to air quality, and carry other impacts. Spills are quite numerous, public health is a concern, air quality studies are being thwarted, ozone levels are spiking (not in Garfield County so much, yet, but in Rangly, the Uintah Basin, Pinedale, and elsewhere). There are growing concerns around fracking. I am happy to provide more information on the impacts from oil and gas development in the Piceance should anyone be interested, but it’s pretty easy to find. If you use Google News and search ‘oil and gas’ there are numerous articles, practically on a daily basis.
Pete Kolbenschlag
Pete Kolbenschlag Subscriber
Sep 21, 2011 11:52 PM
One more point, if I may bore you further. The US is awash in Natgas, so much so that investors are scrambling to figure out how to export it to Asia. I doubt utilities will shutter their doors because the Mamm Peak (and other roadless parcels) are not leased in the November sale. Companies want the leases on their books, they don't necessarily want to develop them with gas trading at $3.70 an mmBtu. So I kind of view that as a bit of a red herring.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman Subscriber
Sep 24, 2011 12:22 PM
Pete – Sorry for my delayed response - I really appreciate your willingness to participate in this discussion. I think we are mutually teasing out some issues from the vagueness of the original piece in the Post. The other thought I had is that new stories are “drive-by” policy; a serious discussion takes time- time to look things up- time to listen to what the other side is saying, and definitely more length than in a news story.
You said “First off, like you my passion and my career dovetail. Yes, I work for environmental groups. But the USFS is not exactly a 'disinterested party' in this debate (nor neutral, defending quite robustly its preferred action in the RDEIS).”
No, the FS is not, but I am not representing the FS when I blog; I am simply trying to clearly describe the pros and cons of the policy issue. In the case of the article in the Denver Post, I maintain that 1) you can’t really tell what the issue it and 2) you don’t get to hear both sides. The FS rationalizing its decision in a lengthy environmental document, with news stories telling the other side, is not the same as a full- fledged two sided policy debate in the public eye. Which we are having here, and I think that is a good thing and like I said, I appreciate your willingness to engage.
“I'll have to revisit the rule language on the 'wiggle room' issue. Maybe I mistook that. I’ll get back to you with the citation.”
Good, I’d like to know what you think.
“Of course, many of those ‘pre-existing leases’ were let—in many minds—illegally when the 2001 Rule was in place, and could now be grandfathered in. Had they been let with NSO stips in the first place, as they should have been, then that wouldn’t be as much of a concern. “
I would strongly disagree with you here. You may think they were issued illegally when the 2001 Rule was in place, but in fact the 2001 Rule was enjoined. I don’t see how you can think that what appears to be following the law (not using a rule that is enjoined) can be illegal. This is probably worthy of more discussion.
Further, even if the 2001 Rule had been in place, it did not specific NSO’s- again, as I said above, the 2001 Rule is a “roadless” rule not a “structureless” rule.

“Idaho has a roadless rule too, the only other state (besides Colorado) that decided to forge ahead with its own rule rather than stick with the National Rule. “
What National Rule? The one that is currently under appeal in the 10th Circuit? Again, if a judge says a rule is invalid (OK that might not be the right legal term) how can the FS continue to follow it?
“What are the o&g stips attached in that rule for the most protected lands?”
O&G does not seem to be a big issue in Idaho.

“ I seem to recall that the Colorado state Task Force recommended NSO stips for future leases, not just NRs. But those files are long buried so I will dig them up to verify. The discussion ended there anyhow, I believe, even if that wasn’t in the Gov’s petition. So it’s not an idea invented out of thin air.”
I agree that it’s surprisingly difficult to find the final report of the Task Force online even though Keystone has much other material on the Task Force available at http://www.keystone.org/[…]/roadless
My memory, after sitting through almost all the meetings and the deliberative discussions of the Task Force, was that most people were perfectly happy to be consistent with the 2001 Rule on this.. “no roads.” I wasn’t arguing that it was an idea invented out of the air, but rather that it was not on the main trajectory, as you agree, it has not been in previous versions of the Proposed Rule.
“ Since the stated purpose for a state-specific rule is to tailor it more to Colorado, I am unsure why some (or all) the roadless lands here could not include some stronger prescriptions.”
They could; and in fact, do (e.g. upper tier is more protective than 2001). The question is not whether the final rule should contain NSO’s; the question is at this time, should the FS operate according to the current set of regulations or according to potential future regulations. I think that there can be only one legal answer.
“ I do particularly think that the upper tier lands need NSO, although--certainly--I would like to see them in all the roadless lands. Again, exactly which lands will be in or out of any upper tier is not yet decided, certainly many if not the vast majority (probably) of comments urged more lands be placed in this more protective category—including the US EPA. Again, leasing these lands now seems problematic, especially since the NSO stipulations might go away once a rule is finalized (or are waivable, even if the NR stips are not). Many groups and individuals—I am pretty confident—especially urged that NSO stipulations apply (nonwaivably, if I may continue to invent words) to the upper tier lands.”
I know that you and others may feel that you would like NSO’s and the sooner we behave this way the better off we are, but others (like the companies involved) may feel that the FS should follow its current regulations in decisions that are made today, not potential future regulations.
Again, I think you have to consider that if the Final Colorado Roadless Rule does NOT have NSO’s in it, like the proposed rule, you are better getting NSO’s by leasing now with NSO’s , than waiting.
“And that is my original point; it seems problematic (to me and others) to lease these lands now when we are likely to have a final rule in 6 months or less. There is uncertainty on what the status of these roadless lands will be (upper or lower tier?) and what, precisely, the final rule will say as to the stipulations that apply to either or both. I trust that the USFS is considering the comments carefully, so why give the impression it may not be?”
Again, you assert that leasing with NSO’s may be giving the impression that the comments aren’t being considered. Others may think it would be arbitrary and capricious to not follow the current regulatory framework (which is unclear since the 2001 Rule is enjoined in the 10th Circuit). I think probably most people would like simply to think that the FS is “following the law of the land” not “waiting for a more auspicious time to make a decision based on potential future court decisions and regulations.” Many environmental groups have argued that litigation is an important tool to make the FS “follow the law.” So, given that, I find it a possibly inconsistent attitude to the importance of (current) legal frameworks.
“The Colorado rule already changes, substantively, the parameters and protections of the 2001 Rule, generally weakening them, so I am unsure why it cannot also be strengthened without changing the whole thing from one beast to another.”
I don’t agree that the Proposed Colorado Rule “generally weakens” the parameters of 2001. I would be up for this discussion but we may want to take it to the NCFP blog as it is off the original topic. I don’t see why NSO’s couldn’t be added in the Final Rule , but legally the decision might be found to be arbitrary and capricious without equal prohibitions against other kinds of structures.
“Finally, Natgas is not 'good' for the environment, despite what your utility company tells you. It's better than coal. There is, quite obviously, a significant difference. Gas wells are not 'good' for wildlife habitat, often not good for water quality, detrimental to air quality, and carry other impacts. Spills are quite numerous, public health is a concern, air quality studies are being thwarted, ozone levels are spiking (not in Garfield County so much, yet, but in Rangly, the Uintah Basin, Pinedale, and elsewhere). There are growing concerns around fracking. I am happy to provide more information on the impacts from oil and gas development in the Piceance should anyone be interested, but it’s pretty easy to find. If you use Google News and search ‘oil and gas’ there are numerous articles, practically on a daily basis.”
So Pete, I agree with you here, carbon isn’t everything, in terms of the environment. Yet for the next 10 years or so, we seem stuck with the concept of natural gas or coal for electricity. I have argued elsewhere that coal is cheap, and the environmental impacts are relatively known, and that carbon is not everything so I think the natural gas/coal story deserves more exploration (especially since poor people need electricity too, and the US is not doing so well economically that I think we can afford to pick up the difference between natural gas and coal).
Still we can see that many environmental groups have targeted coal as being the worst and needs to be stopped. Everything we do has environmental impacts, and I don’t think we can say “no” to BOTH oil and gas and coal right now (not 10-15 years from now) and expect to keep the lights on and people warm in the winter.
“One more point, if I may bore you further. The US is awash in Natgas, so much so that investors are scrambling to figure out how to export it to Asia. I doubt utilities will shutter their doors because the Mamm Peak (and other roadless parcels) are not leased in the November sale. Companies want the leases on their books, they don't necessarily want to develop them with gas trading at $3.70 an mmBtu. So I kind of view that as a bit of a red herring.”
This is outside my area of expertise, but it seems to me that given the trade balance, exporting to China might be a good idea, as are U.S. companies that can hire workers and are solvent. Our country is in deep, deep financial trouble and we all need to work together to find a balance in our solutions.

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