Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking in Wayne National Forest
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U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday over invalid and outdated Endangered Species Act approvals of oil and gas leasing plans for the Wayne National Forest.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.
700+ Acres of Ohio's Only National Forest Sold for #Fracking https://t.co/HL089JsgGV @MarkRuffalo @sierraclub @CenterForBioDiv @joshfoxfilm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481830937.0
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."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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