Federal agencies plan meeting on forest drilling
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Mar 13, 2013 | 8515 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Federal workers assigned to the Talladega National Forest recently returned to their jobs thanks to a Congressional deal that brought an end to a 16-day government shutdown. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny / file)
Federal workers assigned to the Talladega National Forest recently returned to their jobs thanks to a Congressional deal that brought an end to a 16-day government shutdown. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny / file)
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Federal officials have set April 25 as the date for an event in Montgomery concerning the possibility of oil and gas drilling in Alabama’s national forests.

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service will host the meeting, described as an open house, which aims to educate the public on the processes that allow drilling in the forests, the types of drilling and how the drilling would be monitored.

Last year, 43,000 acres in the Talladega National Forest were among a list of forest parcels for which leases were scheduled to be auctioned in June 2012. After criticism from environmental groups and a public outcry, including pressure from U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, the land was removed from the sale.

The meeting was scheduled in part “because there were so many protests when the Talladega parcels came up,” said Shayne Banks, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

The open house will allow people to visit with experts from the Forest Service and BLM as well as state agencies.

The event is strictly informational and not a prelude to a lease sale, Banks said.

The requirements for putting federal property up for lease don’t include public meetings by the BLM, Banks said. The process starts with an expression of interest from a company on a particular parcel. Then the BLM and the management agency for that property review the request. If the management agency, for instance the Forestry Service, agrees, it gives consent for the lease sale.

Once BLM receives consent, it creates a document which outlines the conditions and lease stipulations, Banks said. BLM notifies the public on its website 90 days before a parcel is scheduled for a sale. The first 30 days of that notification period is the protest period, Banks said.

At this time, the BLM website for the Eastern states office, to which Alabama belongs, has a notice it posted on Dec. 21 listing parcels in Louisiana, Michigan and Mississippi for lease sale on March 21.

The notice also gives instructions on how to protest a sale.

There were no parcels in Alabama being reviewed for inclusion in a sale according to the BLM website on Tuesday. Banks said the sales are held quarterly.

Stephanie Neal Johnson, director of public affairs for the U.S. Forest Service, said the open house is about informing people of their role and rights in the process.

“People interested in that process should come and learn how it works,” Johnson said.

The meeting will be April 25, 3-6 p.m., at the Gateway Park Lodge, 3800 Davenport Drive, Montgomery.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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