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Feds to Auction Off Ohio's Only National Forest to Fracking

Following its final Environmental Assessment and a "Finding of No Significant Impact," the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has decided to offer 40,000 acres of Wayne National Forest—Ohio's only national forest—up for fracking.

Fracking could extend to other areas in Ohio, even a national forest. Wayne National Forest is located in southeast Ohio. ACFAN's Ohio fracking map

The BLM is now planning an online auction on Dec. 13 to lease the first 1,600 acres of the forest near Monroe, Noble and Washington counties to oil and gas development. The minimum acceptable bid can be as little as $2 per acre.

Local environmental groups and activists have unsurprisingly spoken out against the unconventional drilling of their state's sole national forest.

Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) has criticized the BLM for not considering the full extent of fracking's negative impacts in its final Environmental Assessment posted earlier this month, including fracking's threat to drinking water and its harm to public health and the climate.

"[US Forest Service decision maker and regional forester Kathleen Atkinson] clearly has ignored the facts that the Environmental Assessment is woefully inadequate," Athens County resident and Bern Township Trustee Roxanne Groff told EcoWatch via email. "The Assessment does not cover cumulative effects of fracking in the Wayne. Up-to-date research must be used to address climate issues of fracking on public lands. This has NOT been done for the Wayne National Forest. Research that is 11 years old is the basis for her decision."

"To date, over 17,000 comments have been submitted to the BLM addressing concerns with fracking in our only National Forest and yet the sale of 1,600 acres of mineral parcels goes forward," she continued. "Socio-economic facts are misrepresented, violating the 1994 Executive Order 12898 regarding Environmental Justice. The BLM ignores the minority Native American population in the Marietta Unit and the higher than U.S. average low-income population. This is unacceptable!"

"There has been no adequate [National Environmental Policy Act] evaluation of fracking the Wayne to date," Heather Cantino, ACFAN steering committee chair, said. "The 2006 Plan, which the BLM and USFS cite as the basis for their recent decision to go ahead with leasing, did not evaluate impacts of fracking."

"The current BLM EA is a shoddy, inadequate document not even worthy of a high school science report," Cantino added. "The feds apparently want to give away our forest, climate and communities to the fracking industry and will stop at nothing. NEPA and science don't seem to be relevant anymore to federal actions. This is a horrifying denial of science, law, and justice."

ACFAN has been working with the Buckeye Forest Council, Sierra Club and other concerned groups and citizens to stop officials from opening up the Wayne National Forest to fracking since 2011. ACFAN also noted that Wayne National Forest is "already highly fragmented and abused, with extensive logging, inappropriate burning, ATV trails (unlike nearby Indiana's and West Virginia's, which prohibit them), and increasingly prevalent invasive plants."

Meanwhile, energy industry officials have applauded the decision. Shawn Bennett, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, told The Columbus Dispatch that the proposed leases are "a step in the right direction" and "opens up lands that are required to be leased by several federal statutes."

"The project does not violate any known federal, state, local or tribal law or requirement imposed for the protection of the environment," states the final report signed by BLM district manager Dean Gettinger.

As it stands, there are now less than 30-days for opponents to file a formal protest of the proposed lease. Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, told the Dispatch that his group will appeal the decision on the grounds that the government has not done enough to consider environmental concerns.

A Change.org petition backed by more than 1,200 signatories has also been launched to protest the leasing.

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