[Federal Register: February 27, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 38)]
[Notices]               
[Page 8899-8900]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr27fe09-21]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Allegheny National Forest, PA; Reserved and Outstanding Oil and 
Gas Design Criteria

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a supplemental environmental impact 
statement.

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SUMMARY: The Allegheny National Forest proposes to apply design 
criteria included in the Allegheny National Forest Land and Resource 
Management Plan (Forest Plan), issued in March 2007 to reserved and 
outstanding oil and gas development on the Forest. The 2007 Forest Plan 
proposed design criteria are identified on pages 53 through 168. This 
proposal responds to instructions in the February 15, 2008 decision by 
the Chief of the Forest Service on appeals of the Allegheny National 
Forest Revised Land and Resource Management Plan. A Supplement to the 
Forest Plan Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) will be prepared for 
this proposal.

DATES: Comments concerning the proposed action must be received by 
March 26, 2009. The draft SEIS is expected in May 2009 and the final 
SEIS is expected in September 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Lois DeMarco, Allegheny National 
Forest, 4 Farm Colony Dr., Warren, PA 16365. Comments may also be sent 
via e-mail to comments-eastern-allegheny@fs.fed.us, or via facsimile to 
814-726-1465. Comments sent via e-mail should use the subject line 
``Reserved and Outstanding Oil and Gas Design Criteria SEIS.''
    Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names 
and addresses of those who comment, will become part of the public 
record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be 
accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments may limit the 
respondent's ability to participate in subsequent administrative review 
or judicial review.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lois DeMarco, Allegheny National 
Forest, 4 Farm Colony Dr., Warren, PA 16365; 814-728-6179 or 
ldemarco@fs.fed.us.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Allegheny National Forest consists 
largely of land acquired from the private sector via purchase or 
donation. At the time of acquisition, ownership of oil and gas 
resources had often been conveyed to other private parties 
(``outstanding rights''), or reserved by the private seller or donor 
(``reserved rights''). As a result, ninety-three percent of the Forest 
is subject to outstanding or reserved oil and gas rights.
    When the Forest Plan was revised in 2007, concerns about the 
environmental effects of reserved and outstanding oil and gas 
development resulted in revision of the design criteria (also called 
standards and guidelines) applied to such oil and gas development. The 
draft Forest Plan included specific design criteria applicable to 
reserved and outstanding oil and gas development. The final Forest Plan 
substantially modified these design criteria, and for the first time, 
explicitly applied all design criteria to reserved and outstanding oil 
and gas development.
    The 2007 Forest Plan was administratively appealed, with the result 
that the Chief of the Forest Service directed the Regional Forester for 
the Forest Service Eastern Region to provide for public notice and 
comment on the application of design criteria to reserved and 
outstanding oil and gas development, and changes in Section 2800 of the 
2007 Forest Plan. In the interim, standards and guidelines from the 
previous Forest Plan (1986) are applied to reserved and outstanding oil 
and gas development.
    In the appeal decision, the Chief also instructed the Regional 
Forester to clarify the Allegheny National Forest's authority to manage 
oil and gas activities, and to more fully document the cumulative 
effects of oil and gas development on air quality.
    The Forest Service continues to believe that the final 2007 Forest 
Plan better protects, enhances and restores ecosystems than the 1986 
Forest Plan, and proposes to apply the design criteria described on 
pages 53 through 168 of the 2007 Forest Plan.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The Chief's decision on appeals of the 2007 Forest Plan creates the 
following needs to take action at this time:
    1. There is a need to provide public notice and an opportunity for 
comment on application of the design criteria defined on pages 53 
through 168 of the 2007 Forest Plan to reserved and outstanding oil and 
gas development.
    2. There is a need to better describe the Allegheny National 
Forest's legal authority to determine the reasonable use of surface 
resources when reserved and outstanding oil and gas rights are 
exercised, and to incorporate clear language that defines the roles and 
responsibilities of the Forest Service, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 
and private mineral owners in the SEIS, 2007 Forest Plan and Record of 
Decision. There is also a need to distinguish between reserved an 
outstanding rights and how the management of these distinct mineral 
estates may vary depending upon language in individual deeds or the 
Secretary of Agriculture's rules and regulations.
    3. There is a need to evaluate and disclose potential cumulative 
effects from emissions of methane, hydrogen sulfide, and emissions from 
vehicles and equipment used in oil and gas development on Allegheny 
National Forest and regional air quality.

Proposed Action

    In response to the Chief's three instructions, the Regional 
Forester for the Forest Service Eastern Region proposes to:
    1. Apply the design criteria found on pages 53 through 168 of the 
2007 Forest Plan to reserved and outstanding oil and gas development;

[[Page 8900]]

    2. Clarify the roles and responsibilies held by the Forest Service, 
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and private mineral owners in regard 
to the protection of surface resources during the development of 
reserved and outstanding oil and gas, by replacing applicable sections 
in the Record of Decision, the 2007 Forest Plan, the Final 
Environmental Impact Statement, and Appendix F; and
    3. Supplement the Air Resources--Section 3.2.4 in the Final 
Environmental Impact Statement (pp. 3-52 to 3-63) to fully evaluate the 
potential cumulative effects from emissions of methane, hydrogen 
sulfide, and emissions from vehicles and equipment used in oil and gas 
development on air quality in the Allegheny National Forest and 
surrounding region.

Possible Alternatives

    No specific alternatives have been identified; however, alternative 
design criteria may be appropriate. Continued application of the 1986 
Forest Plan standards and guidelines for reserved and outstanding oil 
and gas development will serve as the no action alternative. The 
alternative of denying reasonable and necessary access to reserved and 
outstanding minerals will not be considered in detail, as the Forest 
Service lacks the legal authority to do so without engaging in a taking 
of private property.

Lead and Cooperating Agencies

    The lead agency for this proposal is the USDA-Forest Service. The 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management will be 
invited to become cooperating agencies for this proposal.

Responsible Official

    The official responsible for the decision is the Regional Forester 
for the Eastern Region of the Forest Service.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The decision to be made by the Regional Forester concerns the 
application of design criteria to the exercise of reserved and 
outstanding minerals rights, to ensure reasonable and necessary access 
while adequately protecting, enhancing and restoring ecosystems.

Preliminary Issues

    Issues are expected to include concerns related to the ability of 
various design criteria to protect surface resources including water, 
air, and wildlife.

Permits or Licenses Required

    The Forest Service is not required to obtain any permits or 
licenses in order to implement this proposal.

Scoping Process

    This Notice of Intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of the SEIS. Other information used in determining the 
scope of actions, alternatives and effects to be analyzed includes the 
public involvement process for the 2007 Forest Plan, appeal resolution 
processes related to the 2007 Forest Plan, and the decision of the 
Chief of the Forest Service on the appeals of the 2007 Forest Plan.
    Comments received on this notice will be used to identify design 
criteria for surface management that are effective and appropriate. 
Comments that point to disagreements over the environmental effects of 
the proposed action will be used to further develop issues that will be 
analyzed in the SEIS.
    It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times 
and in such manner that they are useful to the agency's preparation of 
the SEIS. Therefore, comments should be provided prior to the close of 
the comment period and should clearly articulate the reviewer's 
concerns and contentions. The submission of timely and specific 
comments may affect a reviewer's ability to participate in subsequent 
administrative review or judicial review.

    Dated: February 17, 2009.
Leanne M. Marten,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. E9-3862 Filed 2-23-09; 8:45 am]

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