Federal Government Auctions Oil And Gas Leases In Wayne National Forest

[photo: courtesy of US Forest Service via Facebook]
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Mineral rights in parts of the Wayne National Forest in Southeastern Ohio went up for auction, held by the Bureau of Land Management, Tuesday morning. It covers the first 680 acres out of a possible 40,000 in the park that could be opened to drilling.

Almost all of the land is in Monroe County, where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas is already widespread. There are 493 active wells in the national forest, but according to the BLM, none are fracked wells.

Nathan Johnson is a lawyer at the Columbus-based advocacy organization Ohio Environmental Council. The group plans to fight development in Wayne National Forest in the courts every step of the way.

“Well, the Wayne National Forest is Ohio’s only national forest. And it’s owned by all of us – everyone in Ohio and everyone in the country. And so many people rely on the Wayne for hunting, fishing, hiking, just a few examples, and fracking threatens all of those things," said Johnson.

A Bureau of Land Management report says with mitigation efforts, drilling in the national forest will have minimal negative impacts. The BLM estimates that development would likely be limited to 10 drilling sites in the affected part of the park, with multiple wells drilled at each site. About 40 percent of the mineral rights under the national forest are privately owned. The rest is owned by the federal government. And Shawn Bennett from the industry group the Ohio Oil and Gas Association said the auction is a kind of housekeeping by the federal government.

“What this process is allowing is allowing those landowners down there in Monroe County who have leased with companies or want to lease with companies, to give them a new opportunity," said Bennett.

The auction would open up the affected parts of the park to exploration, any drilling or construction would require separate permits from both federal and state governments.

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