Audit shows gaps in USFS oil and gas leasing programs

Draft oil and gas leasing map on the White River National Forest.

Report questions agency’s readiness for potential spills

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service needs to tighten up its oil and gas leasing program, including procedures for reporting spills and monitoring cleanups, according to a new report from the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.

Along with illustrating weaknesses in the Forest Service’s oversight of oil and gas drilling on national forest lands, the report also noted that the agency needs to work more closely with the Bureau of Land Management to streamline the permitting process on national forest lands.

One of the biggest concerns highlighted by the report is the absence of a standardized inspection system for active oil and drilling leases. The Forest Service doesn’t use the BLM’s standardized tracking system. Instead, each individual forest is empowered to decide how to track inspections — “However, unless FS performs these inspections regularly—and tracks them effectively—missed inspections could result in environmental damage,” the IG report concluded.

The audit also found that the Forest Service needs to improve its readiness to respond to possible spills. The audit found that the Forest Service doesn’t require oil and gas companies to prepare spill plans during the application process. Even when operators submit a spill plan, the Forest Service doesn’t consult with the EPA to assess the adequacy of those plans.

“Without a careful review of these spill plans to ensure adequacy, national forest land is vulnerable to environmental damage. In the event of a major spill, the water supply, public safety, and the environment could be jeopardized,” the report concluded.

The audit showed there were about 100 spills per year on national forest lands in 2010 and 2011.

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