Explanation needed: Why are we selling oil and gas leases in Talladega National Forest?
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Apr 21, 2012 | 4128 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that on June 14 it plans to sell natural gas and oil leases in 43,000 acres of Alabama national forests — land that is so close to us that you could call it our backyard.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents regional environmental groups, immediately issued a formal protest, claiming the drilling operations that might follow, including the controversial process known as “fracking,” could “significantly fragment wildlife habitat ... and contribute to the industrialization of nearby rural land.”

Local residents also are concerned that their water might be compromised and that their way of life, which includes enjoying the natural beauty of the region, would be endangered.

The BLM has assured critics that under the National Environmental Policy Act, a series of impact studies will be conducted, public input will be sought, and any company securing a lease will be required to follow rules that will minimize the effect drilling would have on the land and what lives there.

Critics are not satisfied. They promise to press the BLM to stop its plans.

Although the safeguards and regulations — if put in place and adhered to — do seem to promise that any drilling will be conducted as environmentally friendly as possible, this page is waiting for a better explanation of why the leasing is being done in the first place.

Considering the rising price of oil and gas, finding new supplies would seem a justification; however, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service told The Star that it was unlikely that much of the land would ever be drilled.

If that is the case, if there is not much chance oil or gas could be profitably extracted, then why lease the land and raise fears and concerns that are currently rising?

Is this a way to raise money for a financially strapped agency, or to help reduce the national deficit?

And why was there so little notification that the leasing would take place? Calhoun County Commissioner Tim Hodges, in whose district some of the land lies, did not know of the plan until it was announced. Courtesy, if nothing else, should at least require that local officials be told of what was in the offing.

As so often happens when a federal agency decides to do something, the need to explain those actions seems of little importance. This adds to the widely held belief that bureaucrats do things because they can, and the public be damned.

Rather than create another case of agency insensitivity, the BLM and the Forest Service need to step back, delay the sale and explain to the public why their plan is good for those who own the land — keeping in mind that a “National Forest” belongs to the nation, not to the agencies that oversee it.
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