Fracking Leases Proposed for National Forests White Washed at ‘Public Meeting’

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Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management on the Hot Seat

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Steve Lohr, Forest Supervisor, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A so-called “public meeting” on oil and gas leases proposed for the state’s national forests at a city park by a golf course was not exactly attended by many average citizens and working folks, so far from their homes near the national forests. But concerned environmentalists from all over the state came to question face-to-face the government officials responsible for a plan to potentially use hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public land.

This “kiosk” style of democracy doesn’t appeal to me as much as the old “town hall” public hearing, but I did get to meet the man face-to-face whose idea this was in the first place.

Meet Steve Lohr in the video.

Watch what I asked him and the representative for the Bureau of Land Management and their responses.

But the point is, as it turns out, it apparently was not a drilling corporation like Halliburton that drove the process to gain access to 43,000 acres in the Talladega National Forest, as the spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management originally told me and everybody else who bothered to ask. It turns out that Mr. Lohr took it upon himself to offer up the acreage for leases on the basis of a legal mandate and the guidelines of his job under the Forest Management Plan of 2004, which called for some oil and gas leases to be made publicly available periodically as one of “multiple uses” called for in the forest (see map below).

This was confirmed by Kemba Anderson-Artis with the Bureau of Land Management.

The problem is, he apparently chose the sections outlined in the map at random with no scientific basis for the areas being appropriate for gas drilling and with no consultation with any geology experts. As explained in the video by Dr. David E. Bolin, deputy director of the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama, virtually all of the area outlined in the maps in the Talladega National Forest are made up of Igneous rock and Metamorphic rock, formed under great pressure and high temperature.

“During the formation of that, because of the high temperature and pressure, it cooked off any hydrocarbons that might have been there at one time,” Dr. Bolin said. “So there’s no potential for oil and gas production.”

Scientists don’t know definitively how thick it is there, but Dr. Bolin said, “We believe it to be more than 10,000 feet thick.”

So if anybody tried to drill there, he said, “they would have to drill through at least that much extremely dense, hard rock that would tear up drill bits, to get to something. They don’t even know what’s down there. So from a geology standpoint, the potential would be extremely low.”

When I asked him if would make sense for the Forest Service Supervisor to consult his agency or some experts before causing a controversy and a lawsuit, he said, “Hey, it’s their property.”

I’m sure he meant to say it’s our property, the public’s property, and we the active public were under the impression that the Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, was going to use science as the basis of sound public policy. Obviously this was not done in the case of the Talladega National Forest lease sale plan. So we challenge the Forest Service to withdraw the proposal and go back to the drawing board.

In the Oaklmolgee District of the forest, between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, there are already active oil and gas leases in areas where drilling and finding oil and gas are more geologically appropriate. In the Conecuh National Forest in South Alabama, there are a few standard oil wells, but no gas fracking operations, at least not yet. But much of the area is already under lease and the prospects of finding energy sources there are much higher there than in the Talladega National Forest near Mt. Cheaha and the Lake Chinnabee Campground.

Public Reaction to the ‘Public Meeting’

Here’s the link to the official announcement of Lohr’s appointment. Concerned citizens might want to consider finding his e-mail address and phone number and letting him know how they feel about this ill-concieved plan.

Lohr Named Forest Supervisor, National Forests in Alabama

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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