The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plans to propose streamlining environmental reviews and permitting for oil and gas leasing in the forests and grasslands it manages, which it said should lead to expedited leasing decisions.
In an advance notice of public rulemaking published in Thursday's issue of the Federal Register, the Department of Agriculture agency said the proposed rule would also improve coordination with the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and create "one simplified permitting system" for oil and gas operators.
"The potential changes to the existing regulation permitting sections include eliminating language that is redundant with the National Environmental Policy Act process, removing confusing options, and ensuring better alignment with the BLM regulations," USFS said. "The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production. These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly."
USFS is accepting public comments through Oct. 15. The agency said the proposed changes would help modernize legislation that was first promulgated in 1990 and only given a minor update once, in 2007.
According to the notice, USFS proposes to streamline and reform the process used to identify national forest land that BLM may offer for oil and gas leasing, and to update regulatory provisions that cover lease stipulation waivers, exceptions and modifications. It also plans to review language addressing an "operator's responsibility to protect natural resources and the environment."
The agency also proposes to clarify the procedures used for reviewing and approving surface use plans of operations, as well as language covering inspections and compliance. In addition, USFS wants to mirror the way BLM handles geophysical and seismic operations for minerals development.
USFS manages 154 national forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie across 43 states and Puerto Rico. Of those, about 44 national forests or grasslands have ongoing federal oil and gas interest or operations.