by Max Brantley
Federal agencies haven't adequately considered impact on endangered species, roadless areas and wild and scenic rivers, the suit says. It says they particularly have failed to consider the fallout from hydraulic fracturing wells.
The suit asks for a preliminary injunction against further exploration until the suit can be tried.
The suit was filed because of fear that gas companies are on the verge of an explosion of hydraulic fracturing to produce gas in the northern reaches of the national forest.
A 2005 plan, which came with an environmental impact statement, said the Forest Service anticipated 10 to 15 wells in the forest. However, more than 40 have been drilled, said Ross Noland, attorney for the Ozark Society. But these are conventional gas wells, drilled south of the Arkansas River outside the Fayetteville shale zone. In fracking, water and chemicals are injected at high pressure to release gas from shale zones, a process that produces waste byproducts with a potential for pollution.
The immediate concern is work on exploratory drilling that could lead to massive fracking to the north. A 2008 Bureau of Land Management report said the forest could "support" 1,700 wells. A 2010 supplemental information report by federal agencies cleared the way for sale of leases and exploratory drilling in the northern parts of the forest in the shale zone. Noland said the Ozark Society will contend this supplemental statement didn't constitute a full environmental impact statement, as federal law requires. Public comment wasn't solicited or taken, for example.
The Ozark Society filed suit today in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas alleging the federal agencies responsible for managing gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest have failed to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The Ozark Society is a local conservation organization dedicated to protecting Arkansas’s public lands and natural environment. The group has more than 850 members in Arkansas and surrounding states.
The suit states the defendants have not properly studied the impacts of gas leasing, exploration and development on the resources in the Ozark National Forest, such as endangered species, roadless areas, and National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Gas wells require road, pipeline and drill pad construction, and result in a tremendous amount of truck traffic through the forest. The Ozark Society also alleges the defendants have not properly planned for or studied the impacts of anticipated hydraulic fracturing in the National Forest located above the Fayetteville Shale. Hydraulic fracturing requires chemical-laden hydraulic fracturing fluids and millions of gallons of fresh water for a single well. The fluids and drill cuttings are stored in pits which pose a storm-water runoff threat to streams such as the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek. The defendants have issued leases and permitted exploratory drilling, which will result in hydraulic fracturing in the forest.
“The increase in natural gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest represents the greatest threat to Arkansas’s public lands since the Corps of Engineers attempted to dam the Buffalo River,” said Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society. “Hydraulic fracturing results in a variety of environmental harms, which the defendants have failed to consider, including water use, venting of greenhouse gases during well completion and management of hydraulic fracturing fluids.”
The Ozark Society filed a motion for preliminary injunction simultaneously with the complaint. The motion requests the court to immediately prohibit the defendants from permitting any further natural gas leasing, exploration or development in the Ozark National Forest pending the resolution of the case.
“The Ozark Society is filing this suit to prevent our national forests, roadless areas, and wild and scenic river corridors from becoming industrial sites,” stated Alice Andrews, past president of the Ozark Society. “After considering the new road construction, stream crossings and the strong potential for waste ponds to overflow during storm events, we determined the time to take action to protect our natural areas is now.”
Questions regarding this suit, or requests for more information, may be directed to Ross Noland at McMath Woods P.A., attorneys for the Ozark Society, at 501-396-5400. McMath Woods P.A. is an environmental and personal injury law firm in Little Rock, Arkansas which has represented clients since 1953.