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December 19, 2008
In Reply Refer To:
3150/3250 (310) P         
Instruction Memorandum No. 2009-044      
Expires: 09/30/2010
To:                  All Washington Office and Field Officials
From:               Director
Subject:           Supplemental Guidance to 516 Department Manual 11.9 B. Fluid Minerals: Approval of Notice of Intent to Conduct Geophysical Exploration with No Road Construction, by means of Categorical Exclusion.
Program Area:  Geophysical Exploration pursuant to 43 CFR 3150 (Oil and Gas) and 43 CFR 3250 (Geothermal)
Purpose: This Instruction Memorandum (IM) establishes policy and provides guidance to Authorized Officers (AO) for the new geophysical exploration Categorical Exclusion (CX) finalized on August 14, 2007 (see 72 Fed. Reg. 45504, 45539).  This CX may be used for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when analyzing Notices of Intent to Conduct Geophysical Exploration (NOI).   The CX can be found in the updated 516 Departmental Manual (DM) 11.9 B (6) (replacing the previous list of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) CXs at 516 DM 11.5):   “Approval of Notices of Intent to conduct geophysical exploration of oil, gas, or geothermal, pursuant to 43 CFR 3150 or 3250, when no temporary or new road construction is proposed.” 
Policy/Action: The AOs will evaluate the proposed actions in all NOIs to determine if construction of either new or temporary roads is included in the proposed action. For geothermal resources, the CX includes the drilling of temperature gradient wells where no well pad is proposed. If the proposed action meets the definition and criteria for the CX (no new or temporary road construction or well pad construction for geothermal resources) and no extraordinary circumstances apply, the AO shall use the CX unless the AO determines that a high level of public interest exists in the specific proposed action and the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) would be helpful in making a decision on that action. 
When the BLM considers using a CX to fulfill the agency’s NEPA obligations with respect to any decision the BLM may make regarding any action or approval, the NEPA regulations at 40 CFR 1508.4 require the BLM to evaluate the effect of the proposed action relative to extraordinary circumstances. The extraordinary circumstances that must be considered are applicable throughout the Department of the Interior and are listed in appendix 2 of 516 DM 2 and in attachment 1 of this IM. If the proposed action may involve one or more of the extraordinary circumstances, an EA or Environmental Impact Statement must be prepared. 
Section of the National Environmental Policy Handbook, H-1790-1 recommends that the form contained in appendix 6 of that handbook be used to document the categorical exclusion.
The use of the CX does not eliminate the need to comply with Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, or any other applicable law.
The AOs may still use a structured interdisciplinary permit review and approval process and conduct onsite inspections for a proposed NOI when a CX is used.  The AO can apply best management practices (BMP) and conditions of approval (COA) when a CX is used to ensure that operations are conducted in such a way as to minimize potential environmental impacts or to ensure that extraordinary circumstances will not apply. The AOs should use the BMPs and/or COAs provided for in the applicable land use plan decisions if warranted. For instance, a seasonal restriction based on a land use plan decision could be added as a COA to avoid or minimize possible effects of the action proposed in the NOI.
Application of previously identified COAs, for which a NEPA document has been prepared (such as in the course of the land use planning process), does not require additional NEPA documentation when applied in a CX situation. Therefore, when using a CX for NEPA compliance-related to approval of an NOI, COAs that have already been analyzed in previous NEPA documents do not require additional NEPA documentation. Some discussion of COA effectiveness in past projects (in preventing significant impacts) should if possible be included in the extraordinary circumstances review to support their use. 
In addition, Illustration 16 of the 3150 Handbook (“BLM Standard Terms and Conditions”) was prepared in connection with the establishment of the new geophysical exploration CX. Therefore, the AO will attach the terms and conditions listed in Illustration 16 of the 3150 Handbook (see attachment 2) to all NOI approvals that use this CX for actions under either 43 CFR Part 3150 or 43 CFR Subpart 3250. In particular, item 10 in Illustration 16 discusses backfilling and plugging of shot holes for oil and gas exploration. This IM extends the backfilling and plugging requirement to temperature gradient holes drilled for geothermal exploration. Drill holes (both shot and temperature gradient) will be backfilled and plugged in accordance with state regulations. Unless a more effective method of drill cuttings disposal is deemed appropriate by the AO and imposed as a COA, the cuttings will be scattered around the immediate area to blend in with the natural terrain and reduce visual impacts.
Timeframe: This policy is effective immediately.
Budget Impact: None is expected.
Background:   The BLM reviewed 244 geophysical exploration projects and determined that geophysical exploration operations that do not include the construction of roads do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment (see Categorical Exclusion Analysis Report for Geophysical Exploration (1/4/2006) on the BLM website – www.blm.gov).  Therefore, the BLM determined that establishment of the new geophysical exploration CX was warranted (see 72 Fed. Reg. 45504 Aug. 14, 2007).
Geophysical operations have evolved so that there are far fewer environmental impacts; the BLM and operators also employ BMPs that further reduce the impacts of these operations. In addition, the BLM has developed many COAs that can be included in any approval of geophysical operations that, like BMPs, further reduce the impacts of the proposed operations. The consistent use of these BMPs and COAs precludes the need for a new environmental evaluation specific to each new proposed action.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: Department Manual Part 516 DM 11.5 B (effective date May 27, 2004) has been changed to include geophysical exploration not requiring temporary or new road construction in the list of actions that are categorically excluded under NEPA. The new designation is Part 516 DM 11.9 B (6). The 3150 Manual and Handbook will be revised to reflect this change.
Coordination: This IM was reviewed by the Office of Renewable Resources and Planning, Deputy State Directors for Minerals or Fluids, Minerals Leads in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, and the Office of the Solicitor.
Contact: For further information, please contact Michael D. Nedd, Assistant Director, Minerals and Realty Management, at 202-208-4201. For questions regarding 43 CFR 3150, please contact Jim Burd, WO-310, at 202-452-5017 or by email at James_Burd@blm.gov. For questions regarding 43 CFR 3250, please contact Kermit Witherbee, WO-310, at 202-452-0385 or by email at Kermit_Witherbee@blm.gov
Signed by:                                                                   Authenticated by:
Henri R. Bisson                                                            Robert M. Williams
Deputy Director, Operations                                       Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
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Last updated: 10-20-2009