Ozark National Forest

The Fayetteville Shale is the current focus of a regional shale-gas exploration and development program within the eastern Arkoma Basin of Arkansas. Over 2.5 million acres have been leased in the Fayetteville Shale gas since drilling began in 2004. The thickness of the producing zone ranges from 50 to 550 feet thick, while wells range from 1,500 to 6,500 feet deep.

The Ozark- St Francis and Ouachita National Forests in Arkansas are primary resources for drinking and recreational waters, and, contain critical habitat for a wide range of threatened and endangered species, including three species of bat, several mussels, and an array of other aquatic species, some of which have already been impacted by gas related activities. These National Forests are also essential to attracting tourists and retirees to the area, who come seeking clean air, clean water, and a healthy and diverse landscape to vacation or live.

The Ozark National Forest totals over 1 million acres. Almost 500,000 acres have been leased for gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. However, development of these BLM leases has been slowed by three factors: BLM's failure to produce an Environmental Impact Study; falling gas prices; and, a pending lawsuit to determine whether BLM and the USFS have complied with Federal Laws and Regulations in leasing these federal lands.

The lawsuit was filed in May of 2011 in U. S. District Court in Little Rock, AR by a group of environmental organizations and individuals from across north Arkansas against three agencies of the United States government. The purpose of the suit is 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 determine whether hydraulic fracturing of gas wells is 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.

The suit claims that the drilling activities will severely damage the National Forest, and that the effects of  “fracking” upon surface and ground waters, air, and the environment are unknown. The plaintiffs allege that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have violated the law by failing to conduct 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.  The suit is currently scheduled for hearings in 2013.