Kill the Drill Talking Points

The Case Against Drilling on our National Forests

Historical:

  • The 2004 Revised Land and Resource Management Plan (RLRMP) for National Forests in Alabama makes available for mineral leasing 543,047 acres, or 81.4% of Alabama’s national forests. Combined with the 12% of national forest land on which the mineral rights are privately held, this totals 93.4% of our National Forests in Alabama subject to oil and gas exploration and development.  Only the statutory minimum was withheld from leasing, 50,430 acres designated as either Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River, where mineral operations are excluded by federal law.

  • 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.

  • In the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which accompanied the 2004 RLRMP, mineral development was not considered to be a significant issue, due mainly to a historically low level of interest by the oil and gas industries in developing these resources.

  • Subsequent to the drafting of the FEIS and RLRMP, changes in drilling technology, specifically horizontal drilling and modern slickwater hydraulic fracturing, have made the extraction of natural gas from Alabama’s deep shale and methane from shallower coalbed formations more feasible and economical.  Thus, there is currently a much higher level of interest by private industry in developing these resources.

 

Importance:

  • Alabama’s 667,000 acres of national forest land occupies only 2% of the state’s total land area, yet it is a haven for 60% of the federally listed threatened and endangered species.

  • The watersheds in National Forests in Alabama include significant surface water sources feeding several of Alabama’s major river systems, including the Black Warrior, Cahaba, Coosa and Tallapoosa, which provide drinking water to millions of people, habitat for numerous, threatened, endangered and sensitive aquatic species, and recreational opportunities for all of Alabama’s residents.

  • Alabama possesses one of the highest levels of biodiversity of all the states, and our national forests here are home to about 900 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes.

  • The recreational value of these undeveloped national forest lands cannot be overstated.  They are used extensively by hunters, hikers, fishermen, trail riders, cyclists, birdwatchers and more, providing significant and consistent positive economic impact to communities surrounding the forests. Our forests are a classroom for teaching our children about the natural world.

 

Impacts:

  • 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 both the long and short term and is therefore not compatible with the USFS stated management policies of “multiple use” and the ecological restoration of native forest communities, as set forth in the RLRMP.

  • Gas drilling in shale and coal bed formations will employ modern hydraulic fracturing, a technology which has been shown to have great risk of potential negative impacts to both surface and groundwater resources in other states where it has been widely used, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas.  “Water is the oil of the 21st century…..we want to make sure that we have the benefit of the resource in the future,” stated one of Governor Bentley’s legal advisers.

  • Modern fracking technology consumes significant water resources and creates serious disposal problems for toxic wastes, which contain 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 wastes through our watersheds and communities is significant, based on the frequency of accidents in other states.

  • Surface impacts from the construction of drilling pads and roads to access and maintain drilling sites and the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, which will all need an electrical grid, serve to fragment wildlife habitat and negatively affect scenic integrity.

  • Oil and gas drilling generally, and fracking in particular, have been exempted 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 and air resources and the public health from potential damaging impacts of modern hydraulic fracturing.

 

Conclusions:

  • Federal regulations require agencies (including the US Forest Service) to prepare supplements to draft or final environmental impact statements when there are “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts.”  The Forest Service should impose a moratorium on the sale of mineral leases until a supplemental EIS, evaluating the potential impacts to the natural and human environments posed by modern drilling technology, has been prepared according to the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

  • The value of resources on National Forests in Alabama, including water, wildlife and recreation, far exceeds the monetary value of revenue produced through mineral development, which has the potential to negatively impact all other uses beyond our capacity to mitigate, especially in the case of groundwater contamination.  Therefore, mineral leasing on National Forests in Alabama should be prohibited, in the interest of protecting and conserving those other resources.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing information from nine oil and gas companies for its study of the impact of fracking on drinking water, a study which should conclude by the end of this year.  A recent EPA study, released earlier this year, concluded that hydraulic fracturing probably caused groundwater contamination in Wyoming.  Any actions, including mineral leasing, which could lead to this practice being used on Alabama’s national forests, should be delayed until more definitive information is available concerning the possible negative impacts to water resources.

  • Improvements in our scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing and provisions for regulatory clarity and protection from the known risks of fracking are essential to the responsible management of our national forests, which belong to all the people, who have very little to gain from private exploitation of gas and oil resources on public lands and much to lose.

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