McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State news

December 6, 2013

Will the BLM lease and permit coal mining in the area?

The BLM seeks public input on the development documents that govern the lease and permitting of federally owned resources

McALESTER — Federal efforts could open local land for the development of natural resources such as grasslands, wind energy, salt, gas, oil and — specifically in the southeast Oklahoma — coal.

“The (Bureau of Land Management) is a small agency with a big mission,” BLM Field Manager Steve Tryon said Wednesday at a public meeting held in McAlester at the Holiday Inn Express.

There were no elected officials who attended the public meeting and only two area residents turned out for the session.

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop a new Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. Tyron said the mission is to manage use of nearly 250 million acres of public land and 700

million acres of mineral estate in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

“These multiple uses are diverse,” Tryon said during a presentation, “including energy development, livestock grazing, recreational activities and conservation.”

In fiscal year 2012, two active coal mines produced 451,000 tons of federal coal in southeast Oklahoma, according to information provided at Wednesday’s meeting. Currently in southeast Oklahoma, there are five inactive coal mines.

More than four mining companies hope to expand coal mining and exploration in the area.

The finalized RMP and EIS will guide management decisions for public resources within 104,000 acres of BLM property, 593,000 acres of split-estate land and 5,270,000 acres of federal mineral estate on — and under — lands managed by other federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Defense, BLM Planning and Environmental Coordinator Laurence “Larry” Levesque told the McAlester News-Capital previously.

The BLM field office also oversees environmental compliance by those leasing federal lands and minerals, and production accountability.

The BLM’s overall budget is $1.8 billion yearly; in Fiscal Year 2011, the agency generated $4.1 billion in revenue.

Wednesday’s session was one of 17 public meetings planned throughout Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas to gather public input for the RMP and EIS.

“We are trying to look over a 20-year period to estimate what’s going to be developed,” Tryon said Wednesday. “That includes coal, sand and gravel; it includes salt and wind energy.

“We are trying to see is how much energy development there will be, and how much of it is associated with federal and American Indian activities that is under way right now.”

Meanwhile, part of the plan will describe federal and Indian energy development potential verses all energy resources.

Gathering the public’s input will help the BLM to identify issues and concerns they may not be aware of.

Levesque asks the public to provide comments — in writing. A Notice of Intent to prepare the RMP and EIS was published in the Federal Register on July 26, 2013, formally opening a 190-day public meeting period to end Jan. 31.

That will leave less than two months for members of the public to voice their thoughts.

Levesque said comments may be submitted by email to BLM_NM_OKT_RMP@blm.gov or by filling out a comment form at www.blm.gov/nm/oktrmp. Levesque said comment forms may be delivered to the BLM at 7906 E. 33rd St. Ste. 101, Tulsa, OK 74145 or faxed to 918-621-4230 with “Attn: Laurence Levesque.”

Contact MJ Brickey by email at mjbrickey@journalist.com.

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