Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK — A conservation group filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking a halt to natural gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest.

The Ozark Society filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, along with a motion for a preliminary injunction immediately prohibiting any new natural gas leasing, exploration or development in the national forest.

The lawsuit alleges that the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have not properly studied the impacts of natural gas exploration on resources in the Ozark National Forest and have not properly planned for or studied the impacts of anticipated hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the forest above the Fayetteville Shale play.

The defendants have issued leases and permits for exploratory drilling, which the plaintiffs say will lead to fracking — a procedure in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into a well at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release trapped gas — in the forest.

"We have concerns with the chemicals that are used in that process," said Ross Noland, the group’s attorney. "Obviously there are potential impacts to both surface water and ground water and the species that rely on those."

Noland said fracking also raises concerns about use of the forest’s fresh water resources, the release of toxic and greenhouse gases and management of fluids after they are used in the process.

It takes about 5 million gallons of water to frack one well, he said.

"A lot of that water doesn’t even come back to the surface, and when it does it’s chemical-laden," Noland said. "Oftentimes it’s stored in pits on the drillpad site, so that poses a storm water threat."

The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment Monday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Southwestern Energy, the largest operator in the Fayetteville Shale play, did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

Other opponents of natural gas drilling on national forest land filed a federal lawsuit in May seeking to halt new permits for drilling in the Ozark and Ouachita national forests and under Greers Ferry Lake. That suit by the Ouachita Watch League, the Newton County Wildlife Association and various individuals is scheduled to go to trial in July.

In March 2008, the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville projected that natural gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale would generate $17.9 billion and 11,000 new jobs for Arkansas through 2012.