Conservation groups have filed an administrative protest challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) plan for a September auction of three parcels in Ohio's only national forest for oil and gas leasing. The parcels are adjacent to the Rover Pipeline.
The protest, filed Monday, targets the BLM's failure to adequately analyze the impacts of fracking and pipelines on watersheds, forests and endangered species and its decision to open portions of the Wayne National Forest to fracking. Construction of the Rover Pipeline, which could transport fracked gas from the Wayne, has been halted because of spills and numerous safety and environmental violations.
The groups are challenging a new 1,147-acre March 2017 lease sale in Wayne National Forest and adding claims that the federal fracking plans violate the Endangered Species Act, threatening animals in the forest and downstream.
By Jen Miller
The U.S. Geological Survey reported an earthquake Sunday in Monroe County with the epicenter located at 39.6663º N, 81.244º W. The 3.0 magnitude earthquake was located in the Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest. Approximately 40,000 acres of the forest are slated for fracking by the Bureau of Land Management.
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.
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.