HUPC Comments On Table Top Exploratory Oil Well Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
16 November 2004
We are in receipt of the Table Top Exploratory Oil Well Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS). Of course, we have a couple of brief comments and observations. Again, we appreciate the response to our earlier query as to the scope of this DSEIS.
You noted this DSEIS is being prepared under the guidance of the Forest Service Handbook (1909.15.10 sec 18.1): “If new information or changed circumstances relating to the environmental impacts of a proposed action comes to the attention of the responsible official after a decision has been made and prior to the completion of the approved project or program, the responsible official must review the information carefully to determine its importance.” In theory, as you noted, this allows the forest to either make a new decision if warranted or sustain the old decision.
While we do appreciate the process and that you are considering additional information with a new decision possible, we all know that is superficial and disingenuous. The history is clear, the applicant was unwilling to go forward until an oil and gas leasing decision was made in the revised forest plan assuming the few remaining unleased lands in the drilling vicinity would be offered for lease. While the Wasatch-Cache had the clear opportunity to not offer the lands for leasing and recognize other resource values (roadlessness, potential wilderness, wildlife, backcountry recreation, etc.) in the revised forest plan and in spite of numerous public comments, the Wasatch chose to offer those lands for lease. Ironically, this issue within the revised forest plan was appealed by our organization and others and while that appeal has still not been formally remedied, the agency decided to ignore the appeal issues and offer the lands for lease. As you have noted the company requested the Wasatch-Cache National Forest to proceed with whatever NEPA documents were necessary, in this case the DSEIS, upon the revised forest plan’s leasing decision.
It is intellectually dishonest to suggest the Wasatch-Cache has not aided, supported and cemented the decision to continue the Table Top leasing and drilling proposal given the specific history and decisions made by the forest to ease both the leasing and drilling proposal and to assure the action takes place. Thus we have a hard time believing the sincerity and honesty of the Forest Service in the context of this DSEIS.
The revised forest plan was prepared not to objectively look and analyze resource values on the Main Fork, but to assure the decade-old and stalled drilling proposal continue when it became convenient for the drilling proponents. So much for public interest and professional forest planning.
The DSEIS minimizes impacts to roadless areas by suggesting roadlessness surrounds the drilling site and access road and does not directly impact roadlessness (except for small acreage at the alternative drilling site), yet only tangentially notes that this is because the action has already bisected a continuous roadless unit. The DSEIS continues with the depleted logic that the impacts to the roadless landscape are minimal because the drilling site and road impact only a small percentage of the roadless acres. Yet the value of roadlessness is not, as noted in the revised forest plan, and common knowledge throughout the roadlessness issue/discussion, simply a function of acres, but of the continuousness, the size, the scope of those acres. In this case a large roadless landscape has been bisected and will now host a major industrial development whose impacts reverberate throughout the roadless landscape.
This is particularly true in the context of cumulative effects upon roadless values, largely ignored in the DSEIS. The discussion of temporal aspects of this impact to roadless lands is ignored. The life of the road and drill site is seen as a point in time but, in fact, courses through a lengthy time frame. Even if the drilling produces nothing and the site and road are decommissioned and reclaimed the Forest Service in the future will further devalue the roadless context of the area by noting while it may technically be roadless, its naturalness, integrity, etc. will be reduced by the past impacts upon the roadless landscape.
The DSEIS continues to insist that cumulative impacts simply be listed and numbered (contrary to numerous recent court rulings) and not actually analyzed as to their impacts to the appropriate area over both a spatial and temporal context. The concern and context must and should be the actual impacts of this action along with existing and reasonably foreseeable future actions and their mounting impacts upon a plethora of resources over not just the moment of analysis but the life of the project and the other projects which cumulate impacts across the active time frame of each project. As noted above the road may be reclaimed but that doesn’t mean the impacts associated with the road end upon reclamation. Reclamation itself swells over a lengthy time frame before the scar and sense of the road is sufficiently diminished. This is but one example.
Of course, beaver are a forest MIS and we noticed the DSEIS indicates there are no beaver presently in “this portion of the Main Fork” (that portion is not clearly identified). The DSEIS notes beaver did reside in the drainage which likely provided habitat for dispersing animals and that “some potholes above the pad site indicated beaver activity” but “seemed” old. This is a hodge-podge statement and seems more akin to the proverbial “protecting your backside” rather than analyzing beaver population numbers, population trends and trying to understand why beaver are not in the Main Fork any longer. Or are they? The DSEIS suggests there is beaver activity “above the pad.” What is meant by old activity? There hasn’t been legal trapping west of the Mirror Lake Highway for decades and my decades of hiking along the Main Fork suggests there is ample habitat and vegetation succession is not much of an issue.
Beaver are an MIS and they are as native to the Main Fork as the sun is to the sky. If they are not there it would appear to be a problem with the habitat and that is precisely what MIS are supposed to signal. Rather than recognizing that concern—the purpose of MIS—the DSEIS takes a random swing in every possible direction hoping to hide the issue, diminish it and ignore it in the name of leasing and oil drilling. The DSEIS has it all wrong.
Is it possible beaver have migrated away form the Main Fork since the road was “constructed?” Or because of increased human use in the drainage associated with illegal ATV traffic? These are the kinds of issues that also need evaluation.
The concern with MIS and threatened and endangered species are broad-based and only highlighted by the discussion with beaver. Again, for most of the MIS there is no actual or direct, ordered and methodical evaluation of numbers, or trends or discussion of the reasons for population trends and number of those species. By now it would seem apparent based on numerous recent court cases brought here in Utah and throughout the West that the Forest Service can’t rely on simply on a medley of guess work to determine the status of wildlife species.
The DSEIS further slights wildlife issues by simply stating, without a shred of evidence or analysis, that wildlife—lynx, beaver and others, for example—may be displaced by this project, but not to worry, they will simply find their way to other habitat. This ignores a plethora of barriers, both behavioral (Fox, 2003) and physical, which prevent the even flow of 1wildlife from a displaced habitat to supposedly adjacent or nearby available habitats. The fact that we say there is available adjacent or nearby habitat is in no way connected to the reality of available habitat.
We understand the leases in question which prompted this proposal were sold in November 2003 as you indicated. What NEPA document authorized this lease sale? We were obviously unaware of this document and would at least like to know when it was prepared by BLM and what public and Forest Service response was provided.
Also, would you please send us copies of the unpublished reports cited in the DSEIS: Condrat and Flood, 2004; Cowley 2003, Jauregui, 2004, Padgett, 2004 and a copy of the Flinders, et al. 2004 report on forest carnivores for the Forest Service, F&WS and UDWR.