Approximately 31,900 acres of the forest, including 3,150 acres in Athens and Perry counties, will be considered for oil and gas use by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The federal government is considering the Wayne National Forest as a potential site for oil and gas development through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to the forest's website.

Approximately 31,900 acres of the forest, including 3,150 acres in Athens and Perry counties, will be analyzed through “Environmental Assessments” by the Bureau of Land Management's Northeastern States District.

Environmental Assessments, or EAs, are public documents created by federal agencies to determine the environmental impact of a proposed action, according to Energy.gov. In this case, the action refers to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the region.

Fracking is the process of injecting water with chemicals at a high pressure into rocks underground to force open and extract existing oil and gas.

The bureau is holding public information meetings for each of the forest's three units in Athens, Marietta and Ironton. The meeting in Athens will be held Nov. 18 at the Athens Community Center from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

If concerns identified through EAs can’t be resolved, the proposed activity in the forest will not be approved, according to the bureau's news release.

Robert Gillcash, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management's Eastern States Office, said in an email that only the U.S. Forest Service can allow leases in the Wayne National Forest.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="2b2ed04e-2418-11e5-80c5-c7fcc57c8dfd"}}

Essentially, it's the U.S. Forest Service who makes decisions on whether or not to provide ‘consent’ on parcels of land nominated by individuals for potential exploration or drilling,” Gillcash said in an email.

Jackie Stewart, a spokeswoman for Energy In Depth Ohio, an outreach campaign for the oil and natural gas industry, said such leasing has been going on in the region for years, adding that there are more than 1,200 active wells in the Wayne National Forest.

“The United States has a long history of mineral development on federal lands, both on and off shore,” Stewart said in an email. “Leasing is only one step of a very involved and highly regulated process.”

However, Grant Stover, president of Ohio University’s Sierra Student Coalition and a former Post columnist, believes the government shouldn’t interfere with the land and thinks the leasing should be denied.

The potential fracking in Wayne National Forest is a terrible idea,” Stover said. “This can impact Athens County in both socioeconomic and environmental ways. My main concern is the environmental impact this will have throughout the region, and fracking anywhere hurts citizens everywhere.”

Stover said though the public meetings are a “good start,” people need to attend them to voice their opinions.

“Citizens have to come together to oppose this, and I believe that is already happening,” he said. “There will be three public meetings, and I hope all of them are well attended by concerned citizens. If we want to truly protect our future in every sense, renewable energy needs to be the first option and implemented wherever possible.”

As of press time, an online petition to say “no” to potential fracking in the forest has more than 290 signatures. According to the website, the petition will be delivered to Wayne National Forest Supervisor Tony Scardina.

In addition, a Nov. 2 news release from the Buckeye Forest Council, an Ohio environmental organization, claimed that the bureau's announcement was “riddled with errors” and didn’t provide sufficient details about the plans.

It is not the first time the federal agency has considered using land in the Wayne National Forest for fracking. In 2011, the bureau announced the purchase of land in the Wayne National Forest to be used for oil and natural gas drilling in Athens County.

Many public officials and Athens residents opposed that decision, and later that year the Wayne National Forest withdrew its consent on the lease of land for fracking. Then, in 2012, the forest announced that its plan for regulating fracking was sound.

As of 2015, Athens County doesn’t have any wells that fracture underground rock to extract oil and gas, but does have seven injection wells where fuel companies inject waste from that extraction.

@AlxMeyer

am095013@ohio.edu

Comments powered by Disqus