The debate over turning Alabama into a major oil-producing state continued in the Shoals Tuesday night, where developers hope to dig for oil in some northwestern counties' sandstone deposits. Some activists are raising the alarm to people who live there.
A full house of area residents turned out at Hatton Elementary School to hear warnings about plans to develop Northwest Alabama's vast oil reserves. After years of research, developers said some 20-billion barrels could be underneath the ground in the state.
M-S Industries has bought some 2,500 acres in Lawrence, Franklin and Colbert Counties to dig for oil-soaked Hartselle Sandstone.
"Tar-sands is a very dirty fuel and the extraction of tar sands is one of the dirtiest industries in the world," said meeting organizer Janice Barrett. Area activists point to Canada's tar sands oil industry and predict an environmental nightmare of contaminated groundwater, devastated landscape, and heavy trucks clogging area roads.
"This company is intending to strip-mine for tar sands in these counties," said Charles Rose of the Shoals Environmental Alliance.
M-S CEO Steven Smith disagrees, calling the group's warnings "uninformed" due to bad information. He said what he'll be digging for is not simply tar sands, but that his company would also haul solid rock sandstone out of the ground to be processed elsewhere, using its own technologies, devised to be environmentally friendly.
Smith stressed that the operation would bring over 1,000 jobs to the area within 18 to 24 months.
Activists said the area may indeed need an economic lift, but that this isn't it. "This is a dirty, destructive industry, and we're afraid it will preclude another, cleaner, more desirable, more sustainable industry coming into our county. We have tourism here that could be developed," suggested Barrett.
Activist groups are asking locals to contact their state and local lawmakers, and to say "no" if someone comes to buy their land. Smith said regulations now being formulated in the State Oil & Gas Board will ensure that oil can be extracted economically, safely, and cleanly.