Opposition to mineral leasing on National Forests in Alabama – Talking Points
- Lack of public input: The 2004 Revised Land and Resource Management Plan for National Forests in Alabama excludes from mineral leasing and development only the statutory minimum, which is 50,430 acres designated as either Wilderness or Wild and Scenic Rivers, where mineral operations are prohibited by federal law. All other federally owned minerals, on over 543,000 acres, have been made available for leasing and development by the USFS. The public had no input into this decision, insofar as all the alternatives in the Draft EIS of the 2004 RLRMP contained essentially the same acreage deemed eligible for mineral leasing.
- Changes in technology and markets: Prior to the 2004 RLRMP, there was an historically low level of interest in developing oil and gas on Alabama’s national forests, leading to the USFS not considering it a significant issue for planning purposes. Subsequent changes in drilling technology, specifically horizontal drilling and modern slickwater hydraulic fracturing, have led to a much higher level of interest in developing Alabama’s shale gas and coal bed methane.
- Conflict with multiple use: The wide scale industrial development invited by the leasing of tens of thousands of acres of national forest land for oil and gas exploration and drilling would negatively impact most of the other forest resources over the short and long term. The RLRMP clearly places oil and gas development above all other uses. This is a violation of the multiple use principles set forth in the Multiple Use and Sustained Use Act, and mineral operations conflict with the management prescription goals of recreation and ecological restoration of native forest communities, as set forth in the RLRMP.
- Negative surface impacts: Surface impacts from the construction of drilling pads and roads to access and maintain well sites and the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, which will all need an electrical grid, fragment wildlife habitat, negatively affect scenic integrity, and preclude other uses.
- Negative economic impacts: The recreational value of these undeveloped national forest lands cannot be overstated. They represent only 2% of the total land area of Alabama, but are used extensively by hunters, hikers, fishermen, trail riders, cyclists, birdwatchers and more. Recreation based tourism provides significant positive and consistent economic impact to communities surrounding the forests. Our forests are a classroom for teaching our children about the natural world. The heavy industrial activity of oil and gas operations would seriously jeopardize this recreational and educational value. Nationally, the outdoor recreation industry provides almost 3 times as many jobs as the oil and gas industry. In Alabama, outdoor recreation generates 86,000 jobs and $494 million in state and local tax revenue every year!
- Negative ecological impacts: Modern fracking technology consumes significant water resources and creates serious disposal problems for toxic wastes. Produced water from hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells contains carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, volatile organic compounds, radioactive isotopes, and other substances harmful to the natural environment and human health. The risk for accidents and spills from the transportation of toxic fracking chemicals and produced water through our watersheds and communities is significant, based on the frequency of accidents in other states.
- Lack of adequate regulatory oversight: Oil and gas drilling generally, and fracking in particular, are exempt from certain provisions of seven different federal laws designed to protect the environment and public health, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund Program), the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. State regulations have not kept pace with the technology and are insufficient to protect our water, air, and the public health from the potential damaging impacts of modern hydraulic fracturing.
- Degradation of resources: The value of resources on National Forests in Alabama, including water, wildlife and recreation, as well as the ecological services provided by these undeveloped landscapes, far exceeds the monetary value of revenue produced through mineral extraction, which has the potential to negatively impact all other uses beyond our capacity to mitigate, especially in the case of groundwater contamination. A growing body of scientific evidence is beginning to indicate that fracking cannot be done safely, creating unacceptable risks to the quality of air, water and human health. Therefore, mineral leasing on National Forests in Alabama should be prohibited, in the interest of protecting and conserving those other resources.