Conservation groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday over invalid and outdated Endangered Species Act approvals of oil and gas leasing plans for the Wayne National Forest.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council, Heartwood and Sierra Club are challenging the approvals for failing to consider the effects of fracking, white-nose syndrome and climate change on the endangered Indiana bat and other protected species threatened with extinction.
“The Indiana bat is already over-stressed by white-nose syndrome and climate change. Summer bat detection rates in Ohio have declined by more than 50 percent since 2011,” said Wendy Park, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But instead of protecting this fragile species, the BLM and Forest Service are allowing the razing and pollution of important bat habitat in the Wayne for harmful fracking.”
In December 2016 the BLM auctioned 719 acres of public land in the Wayne National Forest’s Marietta Unit in southeast Ohio, opening up the forest to large-scale, high-volume fracking of the Marcellus and Utica shales for the first time. The groups’ legal challenge aims to void this auction and halt fracking in the Wayne to protect the forest’s wildlife and water.
The groups assert fracking would industrialize Ohio’s only national forest, increase climate pollution, destroy the Indiana bat’s habitat and risk contamination of water supplies that support endangered mussels and local communities.
“Pipelines, well pads and wastewater pits destroy habitat and harm people and wildlife,” said Nathan Johnson, an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council. “These impacts are real. In 2014, a frack pad fire and chemical spill near the Wayne forced the evacuation of local residents and killed tens of thousands of fish and mussels.”
The 2014 Monroe County well pad fire resulted in the contamination of a creek near the national forest. Wastewater and fracking chemicals spilled into Opossum Creek—an Ohio River tributary—killing 70,000 fish over a five-mile stretch.
“Fracking the Wayne National Forest in Ohio is like kicking someone when they’re down,” said Tabitha Tripp of Heartwood. “This land has been overworked for the last 200 years. Are we not rich and wise enough now to let a tiny percentage go wild? Declining species need that. We need that. Instead, we are witness to the betrayal of the public trust and we have no recourse but to sue.”
The groups have also filed an appeal with the secretary of the interior to challenge the December 2016 lease sale.
As of 2016, private fracking operators had nominated 18,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest’s Marietta Unit for leasing, setting up this land to be auctioned off in upcoming lease sales that BLM conducts quarterly. Another lease auction is scheduled for March 23. BLM is accepting formal “protests” from the public for this proposal to auction over 1,100 acres of the forest until Feb. 13.
“There has been statewide opposition to leasing our only national forest for hydraulic fracturing. Ohio ranks 47th per capita in providing public lands to our state citizens. People do not want to hike near frack pads, smell diesel fuel in a forest or fear that streams and rivers are contaminated,” said Loraine McCosker, southeast Ohio resident and co-chair of the Forests and Public Lands Committee of the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter.
“Along with the impact to citizens who depend on our forest to provide clean air and water and recreational lands, this habitat is critical for many endangered and declining species challenged by climate change and other threats. In addition, Ohio is currently receiving great quantities of fracking waste from within Ohio and adjacent states which is then injected into class 2 injection wells. This proposed extraction will increase the waste created thereby increasing this burden.”