A draft resource management plan (RMP) and final Environmental Impact Statement released recently by the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Casper Field Office recommends "moderate restraints" on oil, gas and mineral leasing in portions of southeast Wyoming, including the Wind River and Salt Creek basins.

Under BLM's preferred plan, one of five alternatives reviewed in the report released June 8, acreage deemed "administratively unavailable for oil and gas" would be increased to 226,568 from the current 37,922 acres.

The preferred alternative "emphasizes moderate constraints on leasing for oil and gas and other solid leasable minerals." The BLM said that major, moderate, and standard stipulations would apply to 843,139 acres, 2,506,530 acres and 1,080,935 acres, respectively.

Compared to rules currently in effect, this would represent an approximate 9% increase in acreage subject to major stipulations, an 8% decrease in acreage subject to moderate stipulations and a 5% decrease in acreage subject to standard stipulations.

The BLM noted that its recommended alternative "increases conservation of physical, biological and heritage resources compared to current management, including restrictions against habitat fragmentation and designation of five new MAs [management areas]." Two of the MAs, Salt Creek and Wind River Basin, are designated for oil and gas.

Surface occupancy or other surface disturbance on slopes greater than 25% would be disallowed without written authorization under the preferred plan. In addition, the use of pitless technology for oil and gas drilling operations would be required when there is a chance of "adverse impacts to surface water, groundwater, or soils."

The preferred plan would also dramatically increase the amount of acreage set aside as protective buffers for sage grouse breeding and nesting habitat.

Wyoming Gov. David Freudenthal is concerned about the potential for the sage grouse to be designated as an endangered species. He is convening a sage grouse summit for June 27 and 28 in Casper to formulate a plan that will balance protection with other reasonable land use (see Daily GPI, June 1).

The Casper field office manages 1.4 million acres of publicly owned surface rights and 4.7 million acres of mineral rights in Converse, Goshen, Natrona and Platte counties, WY.

The agency has been managing the area under a 1985 RMP that has been updated and amended more than 50 times. The agency said that it needed to come up with a revised plan that takes into account the reauthorization of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 2000, in addition to the increased demand for domestic energy resources.

The Proposed RMP is open for a 30-day review and protest period, which ends on July 9. The BLM noted that "only those persons or organizations who participated in the planning process may protest. The protesting party may only raise issues submitted during the planning process leading up to the publication of this PRMP. New issues may not be raised at the protest stage."

The BLM is allowing an extra 60-day review and comment period on information regarding proposed areas of critical environmental concern that were considered in the Draft RMP and EIS. The BLM document is published in two volumes and is available on the Casper BLM's website: http://www.blm.gov/rmp/casper/PRMP-FEIS.htm.

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