Warning of oil shortages stemming from the Persian Gulf crisis, the U.S. Forest Service is considering a proposal to weaken many of the basic environmental protections that govern oil and gas drilling on 191 million acres of federal forests.

A document prepared by the agency's minerals staff in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait recommends canceling some environmental impact statements, removing or relaxing environmental constraints on oil and gas leases and reducing opportunities for public comment on new drilling proposals.

"Drilling should be given the same urgency and management attention as fire," the document said. A copy was made available to The Washington Post.

The Forest Service proposal, which agency officials described as a staff-level document that has not been formally approved, adds a new voice to a growing debate over U.S. energy policy. Environmentalists have used the Persian Gulf crisis as an argument for conservation and alternative fuels, while the energy industry, its congressional allies and some government officials are emphasizing expanded drilling on federal lands.

"This is going to be one of many similar ill-conceived initiatives that we will see from the oil industry and its allies in government," said David Alberswerth, public lands director of the National Wildlife Federation. "Rather than try to develop a rational energy strategy, the first reaction is, 'Let's suck America dry.' "

David Fredley, assistant minerals director for the Forest Service, said the proposal would "streamline and speed the process, not shortcut environmental protections . . . . There is no way that any proposal would receive serious consideration in the Forest Service that reduced the level of environmental concern."

Known more for scenic mountains and towering trees than oil rigs, the Forest Service's vast public holdings nonetheless contain significant energy reserves, contributing 13 percent of the oil and 23 percent of the natural gas produced from onshore wells on federal lands last year, Fredley said. About 14 million acres, or 7 percent, of the service's 191-million acre domain are leased to oil and gas producers, although many sites are inactive.

The Forest Service document, "A Proposed Strategy for Mitigating Persian Gulf Situation," cites a 6 percent worldwide reduction in crude oil supplies since the Iraqi invasion. It recommends steps to boost production now curtailed by environmental constraints.

For example, noting that many national forest managers are developing environmental impact statements {EISs} on oil and gas proposals, the document suggests that "it is possible that some of the 40 EISs being prepared may not be necessary," and that less rigorous environmental "assessments" will suffice.

The document also observes that most oil and gas leases attempt "to establish a balance between development and protection based on the relative values of resources present at the time the leases were issued." However, the document continues, "relative values change and oil now has to be given greater weight. If stipulations were removed or relaxed, operators could drill more locations and find more oil."

The document observes that in times of national emergencies, "agencies can reduce the amount of time given the public to review EISs." It concludes with a recommendation that Congress "eliminate the mandatory public notice for review of drilling permits," among other changes.

Forest Service officials emphasized the document was generated within the minerals division and has yet to receive any stamp of approval from top agency officials. "It has not been blessed by anyone," Fredley said. "It's just a working draft document."