Southern Environmental Law Center Files Letter of Intent to Sue Against Oil and Gas Leases

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The Potential for Gas ‘Fracking’ in the Talladega National Forest May Be At Stake

by Glynn Wilson

The Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of WildSouth and the Natural Resources Defense Council has officially filed a letter of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in federal court under the Endangered Species Act if the agencies do not comply with the law in a proposed oil and gas lease sale on 43,000 acres in Alabama national forests.

The Endangered Species Act requires that such a “notice of intent” be filed before bringing suit, in order to give agencies an opportunity to fix their legal errors, according to Keith Johnston, the managing attorney in the Birmingham office of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“The leasing and future drilling in Alabama National Forests is likely to adversely affect numerous federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, the Indiana Bat, and several fish and mussel species in the Talladega National Forest,” the group said in a press release with the letter of intent attached.

“Therefore, pursuant to the ESA, before approving the lease sale, the BLM and the Forest Service must thoroughly study the potential impacts of drilling on these at-risk species and their habitats, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Johnston said. “The BLM and the Forest Service have not done so.”

If, after study, the harm to species and habitats is found to be severe, he said, the two agencies could be required to enact measures to lessen the impacts – “none of which have been required at present.”

The Bureau of Land Management has not yet issued a decision to grant or deny the April 16 letter of protest, which we reported on and linked to here. Nor has the agency, under the Department of Interior, answered my questions about the proposal. The Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have also refused to comment.

In the first letter, the groups requested that the agency withdraw the Alabama National Forest parcels from its June 14 lease sale, most of which was proposed for the Talladega National Forest.

“We still hope that BLM will grant our protest,” Johnston said. “In addition, the Forest Service has a role in the leasing process. Although the forest plan allows these lands to be leased, the Forest Service can deny consent to specific lease sales like this one, and we hope the agency will do so here.”

According to Wilde South’s Mark Kolinski, the total number of signatures that will be submitted to the management agencies on the final day was 7,070, “counting the 3,631 signatures the hardworking folks down south collected in communities around the Talladega,” he said.

The number of people who signed the Wild South online petition was 1214, and the petition generated 2,225 signatures.

The state Senate and a number of towns and counties in Alabama have passed resolutions against the lease sale as well, including Heflin and Calhoun County.

Read the letter of intent to sue here in PDF format.

We are still working on a larger investigative news feature and video on the potential for fracking in this area, as we wrote about a couple of weeks ago, but we are also still looking for funding to pay for this work.

If you are not happy with the mainstream media’s coverage (or lack of coverage) of this issue, help us build the alternative, independent watchdog Web Press by making a secure donation today through PayPal.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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