Did you know that the Little Missouri National Grassland is not only a national grassland in western North Dakota, but that it encompasses over 1.028 million acres and dubbed the largest grassland in the United States.

With the recent release of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands’ Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Northern Great Plains Management revision for Oil and Gas Leasing Project, one might wonder what all of that means for the grasslands of North Dakota.

“The Northern Great Plains Management Revision for Oil and Gas Leasing analyzes oil and gas leasing activities on National Forest System lands available for lease in order to ensure that adequate surface protection stipulations are in place on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands relative to leasing of federal fluid minerals,” said Public Affairs Treva Slaughter of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands.

The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is critically important to balance the need for economic development with active management to conserve healthy grassland ecosystems, Slaughter noted.

“The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision represents a commitment to managing productive and sustainable forests and grasslands for the American people. It was developed by working side-by-side with the people and organizations most connected to the Dakota Prairie Grasslands,” Slaughter said, adding, “The Dakota Prairie Grasslands supports thousands of jobs, generates hundreds of millions in labor income and helps surrounding rural economies prosper. It provides world-class recreation opportunities and supports thriving ecosystems.”

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This decision has to take into account the 845,500 acres of National Forest System lands where the federal surface overlays federally managed oil and gas resources and are available for leasing of which over 216,000 acres are currently not leased, Slaughter remarked.

The settlement includes the best available science to manade mineral resources for the long term and it protects opportunities for solitude and open spaces in “inventoried roadless areas,” while permitting for oil and gas leasing/development of these areas with a limited footprint. The decision protects federally listed and other species of concern through a variety of stipulations and lease notices, provides for full protection and assessment of all paleontological and cultural resources as well as adding protections for bighorn sheep lambing areas, and priority habitat areas for sage grouse.

The proposed changes to stipulations “focus primarily on complying with current law and responding to updated management for sage-grouse and new information… The decision does not approve any ground disturbing activities within the administrative boundary of the Little Missouri National Grassland. If lands are leased and the lessee, or their designee, proposes operations, the exploration and development actions proposed in an application for permit to drill would require additional site-specific environmental analysis and decision making.”

Treva stated, “The decision only applies to future leasing of lands where surface and mineral estates are federal, unless a lease expires, is relinquished, or is terminated and the lands are re-nominated for leasing. Federal mineral estate with non-federal surface would continue to be leased under BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) current stipulations. Private and state mineral ownerships are not affected.”

The SEIS started in 2012, and it reflects changes in the process “pace and type of oil and gas development,” Slaughter said.

“The goal of the supplemental SEIS is to incorporate new information relative to the Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario (RFDS) for oil and gas and ensure that any new leases that are authorized include adequate stipulations to protect the National Forest System surface,” she said.

Since completion of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Northern Great Plains Management Plans Revision in 2001, and the Oil and Gas Leasing Record of Decision in 2003, there have been many advances in the technology used to develop oil and gas leases for production. The goal of the SEIS is to incorporate new information relative to the Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario for oil and gas and ensure that any new leases that are authorized include adequate stipulations to protect the National Forest System surface, Slaughter said.

“After considering the record of information, the applicable laws and regulations, the purpose and need for the decision, the anticipated environmental impacts of the alternatives analyzed, and the public's comments, Grasslands Supervisor Ben South selected a combination of the proposed alternatives,” she said, explaining, “... We have been applying most of these stipulations and lease notices since 2003, and experience shows that they are achieving the desired protections. The selected combination of stipulations and lease notices best meets our responsibility to provide for oil and gas extraction, while protecting the environment, consistent with the Grasslands Plan and complying with laws, regulations and policy.”

As far as the condition of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands goes, Slaughter noted that it’s difficult to assess that information when the excess of 1.2 million acres straddles across two separate states. However, Slaughter remarked that the organization will work to continue “toward compliance” with the plans in place.

“While our annual priorities of focus may shift, we intend to continue to manage the grasslands in accordance with the Land and Resources Management Plan to ensure adequate protections for grassland resources and access to the grasslands for the public,” she added.