Ohio’s Wayne forest could be used for fracking

The Columbus Dispatch – by Dan Gearino

The federal government has given notice that it plans to auction oil and gas lease rights for 1,600 acres of Wayne National Forest near Marietta, a step that could lead to fracking on public land.

Energy industry officials are applauding the decision, which affects parts of Monroe and Washington counties, while environmentalists are criticizing it.  

With the notice, a 30-day clock starts in which opponents can file a formal protest. The government will review the objections before moving ahead with an online auction scheduled for Dec. 13.

The affected land is part of Ohio’s only national forest, which covers more than 240,000 acres in the southeastern part of the state.

The proposed leases are “a step in the right direction,” said Shawn Bennett, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a trade group. “It opens up lands that are required to be leased by several federal statutes.”

Many environmental groups oppose the leases, saying this would be a step toward allowing widespread hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.

“This decision is bad for wildlife, bad for recreation, and bad for the overall health of the Wayne,” said Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, in an e-mail.

He said his group will appeal the decision on the grounds that the government has not done enough to consider environmental concerns.

The land to be leased is in the far eastern part of the forest, where there are substantial oil and gas reserves and less public opposition to drilling for energy.

The Bureau of Land Management, one of the federal agencies handling the process, is not leasing land in the part of the forest in and around Athens County, where public opposition has been strong, and where energy companies are showing less interest.

The notice, dated on Friday, followed a report that day from the bureau saying that energy drilling would have no significant impact on the environment.

“The project does not violate any known federal, state, local or tribal law or requirement imposed for the protection of the environment,” said the report, signed by Dean Gettinger, a district manager for the bureau.

Oil and gas extraction has long taken place in the forest, although on a smaller scale than what may be coming with new leases. The U.S. Forest Service says that there are more than 1,200 conventional oil and gas wells in the forest. These are mostly small wells and many are no longer active.

The process has drawn attention because it would open the door to fracking of public land in the forest. Critics of fracking have long argued that the method is harmful to the air and water, while the industry has said that fracking can be done safely.

More information about the leases and filing objections can be found at http://go.usa.gov/xKHr4.



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