Monday, the board sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management requesting the agency cancel its proposed land auction for the right to explore for oil and gas in the Talladega National Forest. The board alleges that significant drilling and hydraulic fracturing could hurt the area’s water supply and certain rare animal species.
The board joins several environmental conservation groups in opposition to the 43,000-acre land auction, which the BLM announced in March. The agency has since postponed the auction, originally set for June 14, due to public outcry against the possibility of drilling in the national forest. The agency has not said how long it is postponing the sale, but did say in June it will host meetings to engage with the public on the matter.
So far, no public meetings have been scheduled.
“No, nothing has been set yet,” said Robert Gillcash, chief of external affairs for the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Division. “But there will be plenty of notice beforehand.”
Still, the board would rather the BLM cancel the auction altogether. In its letter to the BLM, the board states that significant drilling or hydraulic fracturing could potentially damage the area’s water supply at Coldwater Spring, affecting 80,000 of its customers in the process.
“Physically, Coldwater is on the other side of the county where they are likely to drill,” Miller said. “But the recharge for Coldwater covers about 125 square miles and that could potentially be in the areas where they could drill.”
Miller said he was particularly concerned about possible hydraulic fracturing in the area. Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are injected underground to fracture rock and release natural gas. The technique has generated controversy in recent years due to its supposed harmful effects on groundwater.
“The aquifer is not nearly that deep … they could potentially penetrate and go through it with hydraulic fracturing,” Miller said. “The technique is supposed to seal up things like that from happening, but anything man-made can break and that concerns us.”
Chemicals from the technique might get released into Anniston’s water supply, which could be treatable by Anniston Water Works, but that would be costly, Miller said.
“We do a minimal amount of treatment to the spring now because the water is so pure when it comes out of the ground,” he said. “It would be an additional cost to treat the chemicals.”
And any effect on the county’s water supply might hurt indigenous life there, particularly the pygmy sculpin, a small fish that lives only in Coldwater Spring.
“It’s been listed on the threatened species list since the 1980s,” Miller said. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has required us to have a rescue plan for it.”
Also under possible threat: Anniston’s water deal with the Honda automotive manufacturing plant in Lincoln. Honda announced last year that it would purchase water from Anniston to use in painting its vehicles — a deal which will net the city as much as $300,000 a year, allowing it to keep costs down for residential water customers. The plant had to switch to Anniston because the water it was previously using from Lincoln has too many minerals in it.
“But that’s all based on a worst-case scenario,” Miller said of potential effects to the city’s water supply. “But we certainly want to make our concerns known and at least have some input should they decide to sell.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.