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700+ Acres of Ohio's Only National Forest Leased for Fracking

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Despite heavy opposition from public health and environmental groups, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has leased 759 acres of Ohio's only national forest for fracking.

According to the Associated Press, oil and gas companies from Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma forked over $1.7 million for the right to explore parts of Wayne National Forest for drilling operations. Lessees still need to obtain a permit before any drilling can start.

The online auction took place on Dec. 13 with the minimum acceptable bid for as little as $2 per acre. The Columbus Dispatch reported that offers made by the 22 registered bidders ranged from the $2 minimum to a high of $5,806.12 per acre.

Opponents of the federal auction, cited concerns over public health impacts and effects on air and water quality, and submitted more than 17,000 comments to the BLM during its 30-day comment period.

"Public lands are for the people, not for the benefit of Big Oil and Gas," Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement last month. "Drilling for oil and gas means more fracking, and fracking means poisoning our air and water, and threatening the health of our communities and our environment. At a time when clean energy like solar and wind is proving to be safest, healthiest and most cost-effective way to power our country, it's high time we recognized that we need to leave dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas in the ground."

The BLM reportedly received 100 "valid" complaints but they were all denied by the agency on Monday and the auction moved forward.

Nathan Johnson, an Ohio Environmental Council attorney who helped file a protest on behalf of conservation groups, told the Dispatch that the BLM failed to address new information about the size of well pads and pipelines that come with large-scale fracking projects.

"Once they've made the decision to lease, that's the ballgame for them," he said.

The protest letter also states that the BLM did not adequately address the potential impacts from the oil and gas leasing on threatened or endangered species, including the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, fanshell, pink mucket pearly mussel, sheepnose mussel and snuffbox mussel.

"The government's plan is remarkably shortsighted in its failure to consider the full extent of fracking and wastewater disposal that could occur throughout the forest," Wendy Park, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "Water quality and wildlife will suffer regardless of where these activities occur."

Just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its widely anticipated final report on fracking confirming that the controversial drilling process does impact drinking water. The report is a stunning reversal of its misleading draft assessment that stated fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."

In addition to allowing fracking on public lands, Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 554 last week, which will freeze renewable energy mandates for another two years if Gov. John Kasich signs the bill. More than 25,000 clean energy jobs are at risk.

A two-year freeze was enacted when Gov. Kasich signed SB 310 on June 13, 2014. HB 554 now seeks to extend that freeze, making renewable energy targets voluntary for utilities. Ohio is the only state in the nation that has frozen its renewable energy mandates.

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