Wayne National Forest auctioned off to oil and gas companies, netted more than $1 million

The Bureau of Land Management has auctioned off areas of the Wayne National Forest, viewed here from the Snake Ridge Lookout Tower at the Wayne National Forest Headquarters & Athens Ranger Station (FILE by Emma Howells).

719 acres of Wayne National Forest, the only national forest in Ohio, were auctioned off for oil and gas purposes on Tuesday. The sale could lead to hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — on public land.

Fracking is a process in which pressurized liquid is used to fracture rock and release gas. The Bureau of Land Management released a notice about the auction schedule to take place on Dec. 13, allowing for a 30-day formal protest period which ended on Nov. 14.

Many Athens activists, including members of the Athens County Fracking Action Network, banded together to fight the motion, two of whom delivered a petition to the BLM in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14. The petition has more than 99,000 signatures as of press time. Andrea Reik and Roxanne Groff, among other Athens activists, have been protesting the auction since the announcement of the sale. More than 50 community members rallied at the Wayne National Forest Saturday afternoon.

“My experience of this process was disappointing,” Reik, a member of ACFAN, said. “We did not get support from either (Ohio) senator. … It’s very disturbing to me that we had almost 100,000 signatures on a petition, daily phone calls, postcards, there was no action taken … As a citizen that is frightening to me. Our voices need to be heard.”

The petition was denied by the BLM, though the report indicates that some of proposed parcels would not be included in the auction for reasons besides her petition.

“That’s not surprising,” Groff, a member of ACFAN, said. “It makes sense they would deny the formal protest that were based on issues like health risks and also the fact that we don’t feel they followed the National Environmental Act. … We’re not surprised, but nevertheless disappointed.”

The summary of the sales and parcels sold are posted at the conclusion of the business associated with the sales, Davida Carnahan, a BLM spokesperson said. 15 of the 33 proposed parcels were not included in the sale because the BLM was “not able” to resolve questions regarding mineral ownership. A news release from the sales confirmed the sales netted more than $1 million.

Carnahan said it would be incorrect to assume that fracking will definitely take place on the parcels purchased. Developers must file an Application to Drill Permit which includes a map, drilling plan and other means of acquiring oil or gas, including whether the developer has plans to frack. From there, further assessment will take place and the company will have 10 years to develop minerals.

“The leasing action makes federal minerals available for development, but it does not authorize ground disturbing activity,” Carnahan said in an email. “When the BLM receives the APD, we begin a more site-specific environmental analysis of the operations proposed by the application to drill. … Additionally, developers must submit a permit request to the State of Ohio before their lease may be developed in order to put protections in place required by the state to mitigate risks to groundwater.”

Both Reik and Groff feel the BLM’s environmental assessment was not thorough about the immediate impacts and long-term effects of fracking. ACFAN members attempted to include additional information, but Reik said they were denied.

“They wanted science peer review, so we gave many, many reports and studies and they were never addressed in any way in the environmental assessment,” Reik said. “There were 200 comments on the environmental assessment by the BLM and these were written by environmental attorneys and scientists and every single comment was denied.”

Groff said she is hoping a lawsuit will soon be heard in court contesting the decision made by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.

“(The lawsuit) won’t come from us citizens,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to raise the funds ourselves. We were hope lawyers from bigger state agencies or national groups might choose to file legal action against their decision.”

The fight for the Wayne will not end anytime soon, Reik said.

“More and more citizens and groups are forming,” she said. “We are not backing down. We are not stopping. We will continue to raise this as an issue. … This is where I’ve lived and I will not walk away from it.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on December 14, 2016.

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