Forest Service still plans public meeting on oil & gas drilling
by Laura Camper
Mar 10, 2013 | 6871 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The U.S. Forest Service hasn’t forgotten about possible lease sales in the Talladega National Forest.

It is currently setting up a public information meeting in Montgomery about the issue, said Steve Bekkerus of the public affairs office for the Forest Service’s Southern Region.

“We’re still trying to coordinate a date with our partners,” Bekkerus said. “We’re getting close.”

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management had planned to put 43,000 acres in the Talladega National Forest in a lease sale in June. The leases would allow energy companies to mine for oil and gas on the properties. The bureau withdrew the property after a public outcry accompanied by a protest letter and the threat of a lawsuit from the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Keith Johnston, managing attorney at the center’s Birmingham office.

The center in February named the Talladega National Forest one of the top 10 endangered places in the Southeast because of the pressure that still exists to lease the acreage. The drilling could risk “drinking water supplies for downstream communities and would bring industrial operations into beloved camping and hiking areas and sensitive wildlife habitat,” the list noted. Tributaries of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers run through Talladega National Forest.

“We don’t know if they’ll re-offer them or not,” Johnston said. “We’d like for this to just go away.”

Although Bekkerus couldn’t say for sure whether the property would be reoffered for sale, he said, the Forest Service is taking the next step toward that end.

“We are looking to do this and to provide 30 days notice,” Bekkerus said.

Adam Snyder, executive director of Conservation Alabama, said the organization, which lobbies for “the people and places you love,” hasn’t taken a position on this issue.

“We try to be more reflective of where the public is,” Snyder said, adding the public came out against the move in 2012.

It’s important, Snyder said, that the public have a say in what happens in the Talladega National Forest.

In March 2012, the Bureau of Land Management had a lease sale of property in the Eastern states including Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The sale included parcels in Pickens, Escambia, Covington and Bibb counties in Alabama. The bids in that auction brought in $5.4 million for more than 115,000 acres, an average of $47 per acre.

The leases were awarded for 10 years and for as long after that 10 years as there is production of oil and gas in paying quantities, the bureau’s website states.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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