Oil and gas permitting in national forests may get easier

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Pawnee National Grasslands
Joel Dyer

On Tuesday Sept. 1, the Trump administration published a proposed rule-making that could open up the 193 million acres of National Forest Service lands across the country to fossil fuel development. 

“By accelerating new drilling in national forests, the Trump administration is once again taking steps that will worsen the climate crisis and hurt public health by further polluting our air and water,” Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Nature Program at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a press release. “Tens of millions of people use and enjoy the national forests each year. … This rule would sideline their voices in favor of the fossil fuel industry and more drilling that the public doesn’t want, and that the climate can’t afford.”

The proposed rule would remove environmental considerations, reduce public input and transparency, and limit the Forest Service’s ability to protect the lands in its charge, according to the release. Many of these lands include both current and traditional territory of indigenous people, and by limiting public input, the new proposal threatens to undermine tribal sovereignty as well. 

 It would also allow operators to file unlimited extensions to address management plan violations, even if they are the result of negligence or misconduct. And it is especially concerning to conservationists given the recent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rollbacks. 

“By undermining the public participation and environmental review required by [NEPA], this proposed rule puts the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the public interest,” Will Fadely, senior government relations representative at The Wilderness Society, said. “Our national forests and grasslands have never been more important for preserving and passing a healthy world forward to future generations.”

The plans are part of Trump’s overall “energy dominance” strategy designed to boost fossil fuel extraction across public lands. A 2019 Congressional Research Service report states only 2.7% of National Forest Service land has been historically leased for oil, gas and geothermal activity. 

According to the NRDC, land in Arapahoe, Medicine Bow, Routt, Gunnison, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, White River, Pike, San Juan, Rio Grande, Comanche and Pawnee forests and grasslands in Colorado have oil and gas potential, and could be open to development under the new proposal. 

Public comments will be reviewed before the rule is finalized. Visit federalregister.gov for more info.