Earth-moving required in exploration activity and in constructing roads and well pads destroys vegetation and leaves the precious top layer of fertile soils extremely vulnerable to erosion. If the drilling sites are located in forested areas, construction may also require destroying trees. New and noxious weeds introduced during construction may replace the original vegetation. Other types of plant life, such as stream-side grasses and trees, or plants that live in wetlands, can be poisoned by leaks or spills that occur during drilling as well as the production phase of a well. The effects of drilling on fish and wildlife are related to the impacts on soil, vegetation, and water. Erosion, sedimentation, and chemical contamination of surface waters destroy fish habitat. Stream crossings may affect the ability of fish to migrate upstream to spawn or may destroy spawning areas.
When vegetation is removed, wildlife that depend on those types of plants must go elsewhere to forage or hide. In addition, roads and vehicular traffic may disrupt wildlife migration and travel routes or break up the habitat of animals that will not cross roads. Fragmentation of habitat may limit the forage that is available to those species or make them easier prey. It may also limit their gene pool. The mere increase in human access can also force some kinds of wildlife out of the area. These effects can be especially harmful if they involve endangered or sensitive species.
The Forest Service has special responsibilities if a lease area contains, or may contain, any federally-listed species or species that have been proposed, or are being considered, for listing under the Endangered Species Act. FS must thoroughly evaluate the impact of oil and gas operations on those species and their habitats, including potential habitat. You should ask the agency to carry out a thorough, on-the-ground inventory before offering any lands for oil and gas leasing.
Contact the regional office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for listings of endangered, threatened, proposed, and candidate species for your area of interest. If oil and gas operations may affect either a protected species or its habitat, then BLM must formally consult with the FWS regarding the impact. BLM should also consult with the state’s wildlife agency and protect all plants and wildlife, not just threatened or endangered species. In many areas, the activities associated with leasing can interfere with species such as rare salamanders, bats, and mussels. If the Forest Service has completed a land use plan for the area, check to see if it identifies these or other species of concern. Also ask if your state wildlife agency has special management plans or guidelines that are not a part of the land use plan. Find out if there are additional species of concern not listed in the land use plan. Ask for copies of all habitat management plans for these species. Using this information, you may identify potential impacts that the agency has overlooked.
Specific Issues to Raise: