US judge denies halt on Ozark drilling permits

By Allen Reed

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 26 2012 4:57 p.m. MDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An environmental group's quest to preserve the Ozark National Forest has hit a snag after a federal judge denied its request to prevent drilling for natural gas.

The Ozark Society wants the U.S. Forest Service to not grant drilling permits while awaiting a November trial on a lawsuit challenging the drilling. The society claims the Forest Service violated federal law and didn't let the public take part in the comment process. The group said endangered species, natural resources and recreational activities are threatened by the drilling.

"We're not against safe drilling, but we're very concerned about the other forest resources such as endangered species, the forest itself the streams and the recreational opportunities," said Ozark Society President Robert Cross.

Cross said the society is worried about potential methane contamination of water or air, toxic chemical runoff from the hydraulic fracturing process, and the large amount of water needed for the drilling.

Judge Susan Webber Wright denied a request for a temporary injunction Friday, saying the society failed to prove there is a "threat of imminent irreparable harm."

The amount and type of drilling being conducted in the national forest is unclear. A spokeswoman for the forest service declined to comment on the pending lawsuit and said any information on preexisting drilling in the forest is connected to the current lawsuit and cannot be released. However, the court order outlines the federal agency's argument.

According to a court order, they argue a 2008 study predicted up to 1,750 wells could be drilled between 2005 and 2015, but only 42 have been to date.

Cross said the group, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has not decided if it will appeal.

"We still feel like the risk is there," Cross said.

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