Concerned residents and students called an "emergency meeting" Wednesday night to discuss the upcoming auction of Wayne National Forest land for lease to oil and gas companies interested in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
About 70 people attended the meeting at ARTS/West on 132 W. State St. Ohio University students, Athens residents of all ages and people living in counties throughout Ohio strategized and shared their concerns.
Caitlyn McDaniel, an Athens resident and OU alumna who works for the Buckeye Environmental Network, organized the meeting.
"I’m angry and disillusioned, and it’s very frustrating, this whole process," McDaniel said. "But it’s good to know that we have community members who care about what’s going to happen."
During the Dec. 13 auction, 33 parcels of land across over 1,600 acres in the Wayne National Forest will go up for lease to oil and gas companies, according to the Bureau of Land Management auction notice.
A Bureau of Land Management assessment found that there would be no significant environmental impact if that land was used for fracking. However, McDaniel and other activists believe fracking will damage the environment, and the Bureau of Land Management should reassess the environmental impact to account for public input and fracking's impact on climate change.
McDaniel and community members discussed a wide range of effects they believe fracking could have on the local economy, environment and health.
Some attending the meeting expressed worries that fracking in the Wayne National Forest could damage the habitat of the endangered Indiana Bat. Others were concerned the Bureau of Land Management hadn't done enough to determine whether indigenous people with connections to the area opposed the leasing.
McDaniel included the phone number of Kathleen Atkinson, a regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service, on her slideshow and encouraged attendees to call Atkinson and tell her to pull Wayne National Forest parcels of land from the online auction.
Roxanne Groff, a member of the Athens County Fracking Action Network, and another attendee demonstrated how advocates should speak to Atkinson's office staff when they call.
"I'm sure that's what Kathleen Atkinson told you to say, but we all in Southeast Ohio know better," Groff said to someone playing the part of Atkinson's assistant after a fictional phone conversation. "So if you would send Kathleen Atkinson my regards ... I'm sure you're going to be receiving lots of phone calls from concerned citizens."
Attendees applauded Groff's demonstration.
Crissa Cummings, a member of Appalachia Resist!, a direct action group that opposes fracking, brought a list of companies that she said had expressed interest in leasing Wayne National Forest land. Attendees made plans to contact those companies and tell the companies they disapproved of fracking on the land.
"The companies absolutely pick communities that they know are easy," Cummings said. "We can make it expensive for them."
After the formal meeting ended, attendees broke into groups and organized additional efforts, such as canvassing and a demonstration.
The last event McDaniel listed on her slideshow, a potluck party, was scheduled after the land auction. McDaniel said it would be a celebration whether or not the auction went through — the activists would have to stay positive.
"If it doesn't work out like we hoped it would, we can commiserate and get back to work," McDaniel said.