Forest Service won’t allow oil & gas leasing in Ruby Mountains

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Ruby Mountains, Elko County. (Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest photo.)
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Ruby Mountains, Elko County. (Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest photo.)

The U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday oil and gas leasing will not be allowed in Nevada’s scenic Ruby Mountains.

In August 2017, the Forest Service received a request from the Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State Office asking the Forest Service for a leasing agreement, along with any stipulations to protect surface resources.

The lands BLM was seeking to lease are located in the Ruby Mountain Range, and Elko County, totaling approximately 52,533 acres. Currently, there are no active oil and gas drill rigs or operations on public lands in Elko County.

“I have decided to select the No Leasing Alternative,” wrote William Dunkelberger the forest supervisor for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest where the mountains are located. “The Forest Service will convey this decision to the BLM to not consent to oil and gas leasing for any lands within the analysis area.”

No single factor led to Dunkelberger’s decision to deny oil and gas leasing in the mountains, he wrote. But he noted that a large part of his ruling has to do with the “thousands of comments from the local area, the state of Nevada, and from across the nation” who overwhelmingly opposed the move. The Forest Service received more than 14,000 comments on the project documents during two previous comment periods.

“Receiving so many comments shows how engaged the public is with this project,” said Dunkelberger. “Their involvement is critical in getting a firm understanding of what concerns our communities have, what they value, and how our work and decisions can best serve their needs.”

Dunkelberger also said after the proposed sites were analyzed, mapping found that nearly all of the area likely had very low to no oil and gas potential because of “unfavorable geologic conditions”.

“Offering low energy resource value and high resource value lands with restrictive stipulations to the BLM for leasing would not serve the best interest of the public from an industrial or environmental perspective,” wrote Dunkelberger, adding that the unsuccessful oil and gas development history of the neighboring Huntington Valley informed his decision.

Concerns for the Western Shoshone people who have strong ties to the mountains and economic considerations also contributed strongly to the Forest Service decision, he wrote.

Camping, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities are popular in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and are economic drivers for Elko County and the national park.

Under the “No Leasing Alternative”, the proposed leasing sites would not be available to the BLM for future oil and gas leasing.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto praised the Forest Service for rejecting oil and gas leasing in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

“I’m glad the Federal government listened to the voices of more than 14,000 Nevadans who asked for these precious public lands to be off-limits to oil and gas drilling,” wrote Cortez Masto in a statement. “While today’s decision is a significant victory for the coalition of conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, small businesses and Nevadans who stood up, there is still more we must do to prevent any future attempts to develop these lands for potential oil and gas leasing.”

The senator recently sponsored the Ruby Mountains Protection Act a bill that would withdraw about 450,000 acres of National Forest System lands around the Ruby Mountain Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest from any oil and gas leasing under the Mineral Leasing Act.

After the U.S. Forest Service announced decision, the Nevada Conservation League sent out a statement hailing the decision not to lease the lands for oil and gas, and pledging support for Cortez Masto’s bill to protect the area from any similar future developments.

“The U.S. Forest Service made the right call today in denying oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains,” wrote Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi.  “Nevadans have made it abundantly clear, through thousands of public comments, town halls and through the media, that we don’t want to see this special place disturbed. But this decision doesn’t ban these types of developments in the future.”

While the Forest Service decision denies leasing in the Ruby Mountains, other parts of Nevada have seen something of an oil and gas leasing boom, with the Interior Department putting hundreds of thousands of acres on the block for lease.

However, oil and gas production in Nevada has always been negligible, and both industry and environmentalists remain skeptical that significant production in Nevada will make economic sense any time soon.

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

1 COMMENT

  1. Step one in the leasing process is a pro forma Consent to Lease document the Forest Service submits to BLM every time there is change in land ownership status as to which lands are, or are not, available for leasing. I used to regularly file these every time we completed another exchange, purchase, sale or donation of land on the NFs in MS.

    It is this document that opens the door to including lands on BLM’s quarterly lease offerings, and to requests by potential investors that particular parcels be included in same.

    Advocacy groups should have a standing FOIA request for copy of all consent notices so they have early warning about status changes effecting lands of interest. By the time a site specific request to drill triggers the NEPA process, the horse is already half way out of the barn and just about loose!

    In fact, the No Action alternative is almost never the selected alternative in the NEPA process, which usually focuses only on specific operational controls and mitigation measures unique to a given site. This supervisor’s decision is therefore highly unique.

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