Trump Administration Plans To Open 1.9M Acres of TX Forests and Grasslands to Drilling

Photo: Choyce Ybarra, The Potpourri via The Houston Chronicle

The Trump Administration is poised to open nearly 2 million acres of land in U.S. national forests in Texas to oil and gas drilling and fracking, which would allow lease holding companies to drill more than 1,000 horizontal wells and 500 vertical wells over a 20-year time period, the Houston Chronicle reported on Friday.  The plan by the Trump Administration would reverse a 2016 Obama Administration moratorium on drilling on lands in the Sam Houston National Forest, Davy Crockett National Forest, Angelina National Forest, Sabine National Forest, Caddo National Grasslands and LBJ National Grasslands.

Why This Matters:  This is yet another senseless Trump rollback that would do significant environmental damage.  The move would result in billions of gallons of wastewater, take the habitat of endangered species, risk groundwater supplies that provide drinking water to communities, and could cause earthquakes.  All to drill for gas which is currently so abundant that prices are low, making development less financially viable than ever.  Not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions that would result.  

The Environmental Risks of the Plan

According to The Chronicle, environmental groups argue that the U.S. Forest Service’s plan, the 1500 wells will:

  • require more than 5 billion gallons of water to force out more than 68 million barrels of oil and more than 4.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas
  • produce more than 32 billion gallons of wastewater that would need to either be recycled or injected underground at facilities known as saltwater disposal sites
  • harm the habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker
  • displace recreation opportunities such as camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing for local residents and visitors
  • harm water quality and air quality in both Houston and Dallas, two metropolitan areas already struggling with smog and other air quality issues

The Economic Arguments Pro and Con

The arguments in favor of drilling are slim.

  • Because the drilling is on federal land, the federal government would receive 12.5 percent of the royalties from the oil and natural gas extracted from the forests and grasslands.
  • In addition, under state law, nearby counties and school districts would also receive royalties.
  • However, with both crude oil and natural gas prices low, it is unclear whether large-scale drilling operations in these areas would be financially attractive to most companies that might want to bid.

Environmentalists are also concerned that because of the economics, safety standards might not be enforced, putting these multi-use lands at risk, but oil and gas operators say they are already subject to drilling and the safety standards are high enough.

To Go Deeper:  The Houston Chronicle story has a series of excellent maps showing the extent of the new leasing plans for each national forest.

What You Can Do:  The public comment period for the plan remains open until this Friday.  To comment click here.  The process is quite simple.

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