New bid to drill for oil and gas in Nevada's Ruby Mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Energy speculators are once again targeting a national forest in Nevada's Ruby Mountains for oil and gas drilling.

Critics say a second attempt to unlock the federal land for fossil fuel development is unlikely to succeed after the U.S. Forest Service determined in March that oil and gas leasing isn't suitable for the mountain range popular with hunters, fishermen and conservationists.

Forest Service officials told the Reno Gazette Journal they don't intend to reanalyze lease requests they've already rejected.

Nevertheless, conservationists say it underscores the need to legislate permanent restrictions to protect public resources.

The Forest Service says expressions of interest in a lease within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest were submitted anonymously through the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that holds mineral rights under public land. Such filings are kept anonymous until after any resulting lease sale.

It's the second time in recent years people have sought leases in the Ruby range while offering little to no documentation about their identity or intentions.

The prior attempt covered more than 78 square miles (202 sq. kilometers) between Harrison Pass and Lamoille Canyon in Elko County and met with thousands of letters of objection from the public, and nearly no support. The new requests cover more than 137 square miles (354 sq. miles), although some are in Nye County in and around the Hot Creek Range.

After analyzing the previous Ruby Mountains request, the Forest Service rejected it citing widespread public opposition.

Bill Dunkelberger, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said the agency won't reanalyze portions of the new request that overlap with the earlier review.

"That analysis would also apply to these new parcels," Dunkelberger said.

As for the remaining parcels that don't duplicate the prior request, no immediate action is anticipated.

The Humboldt-Toiyabe covers nearly 10,000 square miles (26,000 sq. kilometers) from the far northeast corner of Nevada near Jarbidge to the southern end of the state near Las Vegas. It has about 260 employees statewide including about 40 in the Mountain City Ranger District in the northeast.

Those employees are busy evaluating proposals for everything from hard rock mining to grazing and recreation, Dunkelberger said. Given the low potential for finding oil and gas in Nevada, he said employees' time is better spent on other activity.

"We have the largest workload in the national forest system for hard-rock mining," he said.

Carl Erquiaga, Nevada field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said he doesn't understand why the speculators are making the bid he thinks will fail given the earlier decision.

He backs a bill Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has introduced that would prohibit drilling on about 625 square miles (1,618 sq. kilometers) throughout the range. He also advocates raising the bar for making a request for oil and gas leases would reduce the prevalence of longshot requests and ease the demand on government resources.

"I think they should have to put up a per-acre deposit," Erquiaga said, citing the process for geothermal leasing.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com