by Max Brantley
The state — legislators, regulators and governor — hasn't moved aggressively to guard the environment from ill effects of gas exploration in the Fayetteville shale. But some lawyers have picked up some of the slack. A batch of suits were filed earlier this week over property damage from exploration activities.
Today, Richard Mays of Heber Springs, an accomplished environmental lawyer, filed a potentially far more significant action. He sued in federal district court on behalf of environmental organizations to enjoin gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest and under Greers Ferry Lake until environmental assessments required by law have been completed.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Corps of Engineers not take environmental concerns sufficiently into account before allowing plunder of public lands? Say it's not so.
Mays is the lawyer who brought development of a shopping center for Bass Pro Shops in the Dark Hollow area of North Little Rock to a halt for failure to perform an adequate environmental assessment. Yet another Corps of Engineers boondoggle.
In addition to complaining of inadequate environmental review, the suit today argues fracking is potentially harmful to the environment. See news release on the jump. Here's a copy of the lawsuit.
If this follows its normal course, people who are supposed to protect the environment for the state's citizens will claim there is no harm from gas exploration (leaky waste pit, flammable water, torn up roads and unconscionable noise notwithstanding) and the legislature's shale lobby will try to find out some way to castigate this as a commie plot to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
This lawsuit doesn't affect drilling activity on private land. But, as it develops, it should expose any number of concerns that are NOT being effectively addressed by the state in overseeing work on private land.
A lawsuit was filed today in U. S. District Court in Little Rock by a large group of environmental organizations and individuals from across north Arkansas against three agencies of the United States government to prevent gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest in northwest Arkansas and under Greers Ferry Lake in north central Arkansas until studies have been conducted to comply with applicable environmental laws and to demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing of gas wells is not potentially harmful to the environment.
The Complaint filed by the plaintiffs alleges that there is already gas drilling taking place in the Ozark National Forest, and that the number of wells is far in excess of estimates made in 2005 by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for leasing gas on government-owned lands. These wells use the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which forces large volumes of water mixed with chemicals into underground formations to improve gas production.
The suit claims that the drilling activities will severely damage the National Forest, and that the effects of the “fracking” process upon surface and ground waters, the air and other parts of the environment are unknown and uncertain, and should be studied more thoroughly before being used in the Forest.
The plaintiffs allege that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have violated the law by not having conducted environmental impact statements and Resource Management Plans for the Forest area as required by the Mineral Leasing Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Regarding Greers Ferry Lake, the suit states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued licenses to natural gas companies to conduct seismic surveys at Greers Ferry Lake of underground formations beneath the lake and surrounding public lands that could yield natural gas. Three licenses for seismic surveys have been issued, and work on two of them have been completed. Work on the third license, issued in October, 2010, is currently underway, and the suit alleges that plaintiffs anticipate that drilling activity under the Lake will occur following completion of the seismic work.
The suit asks that the Federal Court enjoin Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the Corps of Engineers from issuance of any additional gas leases until environmental impact statements and resource management plans have been completed and approved; and that BLM be ordered to halt any activities being conducted by any persons under any gas leases already issued by it in Arkansas.
The plaintiffs are represented by Richard H. Mays of the Mays & White law firm in Heber Springs. Mays has been involved in a number of high-profile environmental cases in Arkansas.