The Southern Environmental Law Center today released the 2013 version of its list of 10 endangered places in the Southeast, and included the Talladega National Forest on the list for the first time. Seven months have passed since the U.S. Forest Service delayed a planned auction of rights to exploratory oil and gas drilling in 43,000 acres of forest land, after an outcry from the public and groups including the SELC. And though the Forest Service has still not allowed any exploration there, it has not ruled out the possibility either, prompting the law center to act.
“The uncertainty is why the Talladega National Forest is on the list of endangered places,” said Nat Mund, legislative director for the law center, a regional non-profit conservation organization that uses the law to support environmental issues in the Southeast.
When Forest Service officials delayed the auction, they agreed to hold several public meetings to discuss the issue. To date, no meeting has been held. Attempts to reach the Forest Service for comment Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful.
“We haven’t heard anything about the public meetings and we hope they don’t hold any … that they drop the issue all together,” said Keith Johnston, managing attorney for the Birmingham office of the law center. “Our main concern is the sale never comes up again.”
Mund said the law center’s main issue with the auction is it could lead to the use of hydraulic fracturing in the forest. Hydraulic fracturing, sometimes referred to as fracking, is a technique in which water and chemicals are injected underground to fracture shale rock or coal bed methane deposits and release natural gas. The technique has garnered much controversy in recent years due to its supposed harmful effects on groundwater.
“There have been a lot of studies that have raised questions about hydraulic fracturing’s impact on water supplies,” Mund said. “One of the problems is we don’t know what’s in the hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
Dave Bolin, deputy director of the Alabama Oil and Gas Board, which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state, said Alabama has had tough regulations on hydraulic fracturing for years.
“It would be what I’d call fairly restrictive,” Bolin said. “We’ve always had requirements for companies to get approval and to submit information in regards to what was done and we have that on file here.”
Bolin said the board is aware of the controversy hydraulic fracturing has attracted in other states in recent years, and is acting accordingly by planning to increase regulations on the technique.
“We’re looking at revising our regulations to go a step further and have those results of what chemicals were used posted on a website,” Bolin said. “We’re trying to be proactive and know there has been questions and concerns in other states in what is being used in those treatments.”
Bolin noted that though hydraulic fracturing has been used in Alabama for decades, it has not been the same version of the technique that has triggered controversy in recent years. Bolin said that since 1982, around 80 percent of all wells drilled in Alabama have been coalbed methane wells, which need only a limited version of hydraulic fracturing that uses sand, water and some nitrogen to access the natural gas. Where the controversy comes into play is the hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, Bolin said.
“They may drill horizontal laterals that may go extended distances and perform multiple hydraulic fracturings, and that requires much more treatments and chemicals,” Bolin said.
Mund said the law center does not want hydraulic fracturing banned, just performed correctly under proper circumstances.
“We think it should be done as careful as possible,” Mund said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
Southern Environmental Law Center 2013 Top 10 Endangered Places in the Southeast
- Talladega National Forest
- Metro Atlanta’s Water Supply
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
- Cape Fear Basin, North Carolina
- Courthouse Creek, North Carolina
- Waccamaw River, South Carolina
- Goforth Creek Canyon, Tennessee
- Virginia and Tennessee’s Mountains
- Charlottesville, Virginia
- Southside, Virginia