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The Bureau of Land Management will be auctioning off areas of the Wayne National Forest, viewed here from the Snake Ridge Lookout Tower at the Wayne National Forest Headquarters & Athens Ranger Station on October 31, 2016. (EMMA HOWELLS | PHOTO EDITOR)

Wayne National Forest to be leased to oil and gas companies

Parcels of land in the Wayne National Forest will be auctioned off Dec. 13.

The Bureau of Land Management released a notice about its plan to lease 1,600 acres of land in the Wayne National Forest for oil and gas purposes, an action that could potentially lead to fracking on public land.

Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is a process in which pressurized liquid is used to fracture rock and release gas.

Conversations to lease public land on the only Ohio National Forest began in 2015, Chris Rose, a spokesperson for BLM in Washington D.C., said.

After industries and individuals expressed interest, the BLM had to determine if the land was under federal ownership and analyze the land to see if it was suitable for oil and gas leasing. The BLM collaborated with the Forest Service to come to that decision.

The government benefits economically if the land is leased, Rose said.

“When parcels are leased, there are fees and loyalties that get paid to the government and they get returned to the treasury,” he said. “Some of that takes place when the initial lease is issued and if the parcel is ever put into development, payments go to the treasury.”

Rose said if development does take place on the parcels, that motion could provide jobs for people in surrounding areas.

There are significant environmental risks, Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, said. Although shale operations do not exist in Athens County, Johnson said one of the highest volumes of wastewater is coming into the county.

“Ecosystem services, clean air, clean water, ecotourism: all of those are going to suffer if we have heavy industry coming in,” Johnson said. “A lot of people are concerned about that.”

A formal 30-day protest period is underway and ends Nov. 14. That time period allows citizens and organizations to submit comments or protests on the parcels that are being offered.

Rose said the BLM is expecting “a lot” of protests. Johnson said the OEC is filing a formal protest. From there, the BLM will decide whether to lease the land. Johnson said if the BLM proceeds, OEC will appeal and eventually take the matter to court.

“(OEC) feels very strongly that leasing out the Wayne would be a bad decision for a number of reasons,” Johnson said. “Legally, (the BLM) will be in a bad position because they’ve failed to look at the environmental impacts. … That’s an egregious legal error.”

Rose said he did not have enough information to comment on Johnson’s accusation.

The potential of industry in the forest concerns local activists such as Mathew Roberts, the co-chair of the Appalachian Ohio Sierra Club.

“The reason I'm upset is I get the sense that there is still too many people out there that don’t see the urgency of climate change and the effect oil, gas and coal has on accelerating those negative effects,” he said.

Roberts said fracking could also have a detrimental impact for the surrounding area.

“People that depend on water resources and the health of the forest will be affected by fracking operations,” he said. “People are afraid their water could get contaminated.”

Rose noted the difference between the process of leasing and developing. Just because the parcels are going to be leased, does not mean they will be developed on anytime soon, he said.

“Once somebody leases a parcel, they have up until 10 years to submit an application to drill,” Rose said. “It’s not until that is filed and approved that they can begin any kind of work to extract those minerals. Those will require additional environmental assessment or public input.”


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