More than $200,000 netted in latest eastern parcel lease to oil and gas companies

The Bureau of Land Management released another 142 acres of Wayne National Forest on Sept. 22 for private industries to lease with the intent of extracting oil and gas. The sale, combined with other parcels sold in Louisiana, netted the BLM more than $200,000, according to a press release.

The BLM started selling parcels of the Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only national forest, starting in September 2016. BLM spokesperson Davida Carnahan said in February that they intend to release parcels quarterly. The BLM also sold parcels in Louisiana.

Some citizens worry the action could lead to hydraulic fracturing, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to fracture the earth and release natural gas. Since the BLM only leases the parcels to oil and gas companies, activists have the opportunity to submit proposals and protests through a formal process prior to the sale.

10 protests were made regarding the sales in the two states, but none of the six parcels were removed.

Previous sales of the Wayne National Forest have yielded more than $7 million. The oil and gas companies that purchase the land are required to pay the federal government a royalty equal to 12.5 percent the value of production.

Ohio receives 25 percent minimum of sales within the state.


Originally published for The Post on Sept. 28, 2017.


People are using Wayne National Forest as a dumpsite

Dover Township assist the Wayne National Forest, Athens City-County Health Department, and Athens Sheriff’s Office in cleaning up an illegal dumpsite along Big Bailey Run. Special thanks to the SEPTA Correctional Facility for providing assistance in picking up the trash. (Image Courtesy of Wayne National Forest)

Some people are using Wayne National Forest as a dumping ground for anything from couches to kitchen appliances.

Illegal dumping is one of the issues facing the only national forest in Ohio, the forest’s Public Affairs Officer Gary Chancey said. The most common items include scrap appliances, construction debris, tires, furniture and more.

“A lot of (the bigger items) that are dumped are things … you’d have to pay to throw away,” Erin Sykes, Zero Waste’s program director, said. “Whether it’s a learned habit or whether it’s trying to avoid paying for throwing away their trash, those are two big contributors. It’s a lot of wide open land, so it’s hard to monitor.”

Rural Action, a local environmental conservation group, has identified 124 dumpsites on public and private lands in Athens, Hocking, Perry and Morgan counties. Wayne National Forest has partnered with Rural Action’s Zero Waste Initiative to conduct cleanups of the forest. The next cleanup event is Sept. 30.

“Litter damages ecosystems and animal habitats,” Chancey said. “Because illegal dumps can pose a health and safety hazard, it is critical to clean up litter and illegal dumps as soon as possible.”

Since the partnership between Rural Action and Wayne National Forest began in 2014, 21 dumpsite cleanups have been conducted, and more than 200 volunteers have logged about 600 hours.

“The agreement expands the Wayne National Forest and Rural Action-Zero Waste Programs ongoing efforts by sharing resources to protect and enhance watershed areas threatened by illegal dumping in and adjacent to the Wayne National Forest,” Chancey said.

The partnership with Rural Action also helped to secure a $12,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a trailer stocked with litter and dumpsite cleanup equipment.

Everyone, not just those who spent time in the Wayne, should care, Chancey said.

“Neglect and apathy take root in a neighborhood,” he said. “By volunteering their time to clean up illegal dumpsites, many students have taken action to help make a difference in their community, which includes Wayne National Forest.”


Originally published for The Post on Sept. 14, 2017.

OU vows to combat climate change despite U.S. withdrawal from Paris Agreement

Ohio University announced Monday — President Duane Nellis’ first day in Cutler Hall — that it will join a national coalition committed to fighting climate change.

The initiative aligns with the values and actions reflected in the Paris Agreement, a global effort to stop temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

When President Donald Trump announced on June 1 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, his decision was met with substantial backlash from politicians, companies and individuals — both foreign and domestic.

Although the national government would be pulling out — making the United States one of just three countries, alongside Nicaragua and Syria, not a part of the agreement — local and state governments and companies such as Facebook, Apple and Google rebuked the decision and vowed to continue to make strides to protect the environment despite national legislation.

The process of withdrawing will take several years: in fact, the earliest a country can leave is Nov. 4, 2020 — the day after the next presidential election.

Although the United States will still be obligated to follow the guidelines outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement until then, mayors, governors, CEOs, universities and more are banding together to make sure the efforts don’t stop then.

“Human impact on climate change is real, and the threat to our planet is undeniable,” Nellis said in a news release on Monday. “Ohio University chooses to lead by example by working toward a sustainable future in every capacity we can. I am proud to stand with my university colleagues from across the nation as we continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was in the running for the GOP presidential candidacy last year, released a statement criticizing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. Although he said in a Facebook statement he did not agree with all aspects of the agreement, he acknowledges the human impact on climate change.

“It is a global issue and will need a global agreement to address,” Kasich said in his statement. “And we could have negotiated that agreement in ways that would not needlessly destroy jobs.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson’s office said he has not yet released an official statement.


 Originally published for The Post on June 14, 2017.

Conservation groups sue federal agencies for auctioning off Wayne National Forest parcels

Several conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the U.S. District Court in Columbus on Tuesday after the federal agencies created plans to permit hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the Wayne National Forest.

The lawsuit was filed under the accusation that the government agencies failed to properly consider the impacts of fracking on the immediate area.

“We’re suing to stop this dangerous fracking plan because drinking water safety and public lands should come before corporate profits,” Taylor McKinnon, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release. “Pollution from fracking would be disastrous for the people who depend on this water.”

The intent to sue was first filed in January by the Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council, Heartwood and the Sierra Club. The lawsuit is in contention of the December sale, and the groups have also filed an appeal for the March sale.

“We filed this lawsuit because the Wayne is an important natural resource for all Ohioans,” Nathan Johnson, public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council, said in a news release. “We won’t let the Wayne be trashed by pipelines and frack pads. The law is on our side, and this public forest is worth fighting for.”

The BLM netted more than $6 million from Wayne National Forest parcel sales in December and March. More parcels are expected to be auctioned off quarterly, BLM spokeswoman Davida Carnahan said in February.

“We do have quite a few more parcels on the Wayne National Forest we will be offering for lease in the future,” she said. “It’s too early to say when the parcels will be scheduled for lease, but there is a lot of interest in that area.”

Carnahan said the BLM does not comment on pending litigation.


Originally published for The Post on May 2, 2017.

Ohio slashes standards protecting renewable energy, worrying some experts

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Provided via Ohio Department of Development)

The Ohio House of Representatives voted last month to slash standards protecting renewable energy, spurring concern from local climate change experts.

In order to pass House Bill 114, the Ohio House of Representatives asserted renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, no longer needed the assistance of the government to support the industries.

“This will undoubtedly slow the growth of renewables in Ohio and make it harder for renewable energy sources to compete with traditional, ecologically hazardous energy sources,” Sarah Pinter, the 2016-17 Student Senate environmental affairs commissioner, said.

H.B. 114 makes all former mandates voluntary after the law was created nine years ago to protect renewable energy production. In 2026, the renewable energy goals will be erased from law altogether.

The 65-29 vote included three Republicans joining Democrats to oppose the bill.

“I am sad and disappointed, but ultimately unsurprised,” Pinter said. “The Republican Party is determined to destroy progress toward sustainability to keep the pockets of the billionaires that run the fossil fuel industry lined.”

Geoffrey Buckley, a geography professor, attributes the passage of the bill to monetary motivation.

“Those (representatives) are getting money from fossil fuel industries,” he said. “It’s a last-minute money grab, and a lot of these representatives are simply doing work for these corporations that have funded them.”

Ryan Fogt, an associate professor of meteorology, said he is worried about how H.B. 114 will affect the solar industry. Solar is more beneficial than many other energy sources, Fogt said.

“Solar has been the biggest growth in renewable energy,” he said. “For every job in coal, there are three jobs in solar. It’s been an area of boom.”

Fogt said renewable energy sources are at a significant risk from the bill because it will create more of a “burden.”

Buckley argued that, in order to be competitive, Ohio needs to invest in new sources of energy.

“From an economic standpoint, it’s the future compared to the coal industry,” Buckley said. “If we want to be a player in the future and continue to attract people to the state and have good-paying jobs, the energy isn’t going to be with fossil fuels.”

If the state government continues to cut incentives for renewable energy, Pinter said the state and, ultimately, the world will suffer.

“I am worried about the future of the planet,” Pinter said. “We cannot afford to cut back on renewables in the face of climate change. It could cost lives.”


Originally published for The Post on April 24, 2017.

March sale of Wayne parcels nets over $5 million

The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 1,147 acres of Wayne National Forest on Thursday, netting more than $5 million.

The 20 parcels in the Marietta unit of the Wayne, Ohio’s only national forest, were exclusively sold to oil and gas companies, an action that could lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The final sale netted $5,119,501.50. That money will be distributed between the Federal government and the state of Ohio, according to a BLM news release.

The oil and gas leases are valid for 10 years, wherein companies must submit a proposal to drill, which will require a further environmental assessment. The federal government will receive a 12.5 percent royalty of the value of production.

The BLM netted more than $1 million in their first sale Dec. 13, according to a previous Post report. The BLM makes sales of public land quarterly, and more parcels of the Wayne will likely be auctioned off in the future, Davida Carnahan, a BLM spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said in February.


Originally published for The Post on March 24, 2017.

Athens residents could lose say in how public land like Wayne National Forest is used

The Bureau of Land Management will be auctioning off areas of the Wayne National Forest on March 23. During their first sale, the BLM earned over $1 million in profit. (Photo by Emma Howells)

Athens residents enjoying outdoor recreational activities could lose their say on how public land is used, thanks to a federal resolution making its way through Congress.

House Joint Resolution 44 would nullify Planning 2.0, an initiative under the Bureau of Land Management that aims to increase public involvement in planning for public land use. The initiative allows recreational hikers, bikers and others to submit comments and input to government agencies alongside industries, such as logging and mining.

“We want the ability to enjoy these public lands that taxpayers have purchased and have a responsibility for,” Andrea Reik, an Athens resident and environmental activist, said. “This is taking away what was given as public land. The way I read this, it’ll take away the opportunity for meaningful input, which is contrary to a democracy.”

Planning 2.0 was launched under President Barack Obama, and the House and Senate are planning to slash the initiative using the Congressional Review Act. If passed under the Congressional Review Act, not only would Planning 2.0 be nullified, but the BLM would be barred from creating a similar rule.

The resolution was introduced in the House on Jan. 30 and was received in the Senate on Feb. 8. It must pass the Senate and be approved by President Donald Trump before it is enacted.

“Given its approach to regional planning, the administration believes the rule does not adequately serve the state and local communities’ interests and could potentially dilute their input in planning decisions,” Davida Carnahan, a BLM spokeswoman, said in an email.

Beyond individual usage of public lands, outdoor recreational industries will take a huge hit if Planning 2.0 is nullified, Jessica Wahl, the government affairs manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, said.

“The biggest impact to recreation business is the uncertainty,” she said. “Without knowing what the landscape will look like in the future, it’s really hard to develop a business around public lands. You don’t want to put a bike trail that crosses eight oil rigs.”

Parcels of Wayne National Forest, the only national forest in Ohio, were auctioned off in December for oil and gas purposes. More parcels of the public land are slated to be sold in March, which could lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the forest. Planning 2.0 allowed citizens to submit comments and input during that process, Wahl said.

If the initiative was slashed, the fossil fuel industry would benefit greatly, Reik said.

“It all benefits the oil and gas industry,” Reik said. “If you follow the money, you see all these proposals of allowing coal ash into streams, and now opening public lands. It goes back to the fossil fuel industry and the money they’ve committed to candidates to support their industry.”

The outdoor recreation industry, which nets more than $646 billion a year, should be accounted for, Wahl said.

“We’re just going back to a crazy era where recreation wasn’t even considered to be a legitimate use of the land,” she said. “Now it’s one of the biggest uses of public land, and we need laws to account for that.”


Originally published for The Post on March, 1, 2017.