Photo Caption: An oil derrick outside Carrollton.
Shale-bed fracking opponents in Athens County this Wednesday plan to hand-deliver more than 1,000 letters and petition signatures to the Wayne National Forest headquarters near Nelsonville, the opponents said in a news release on Friday.
The group, calling its Wednesday visit to the Forest Service HQ "Right the Wayne," is demanding that the Forest Service withdraw consent for oil and gas lease sales on the national forest. In an article Oct. 2, The Athens NEWS reported that the federal Bureau of Land Management was poised to auction off more than 3,000 acres of the Wayne forest for oil and gas leases, as part of a three-state auction involving nearly 21,000 acres in Ohio, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The acreage includes about 2,623 acres in three sections in York Township, Athens County.
Local opponents of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, in their news release, Friday, said they had received some positive information that will help their efforts to stop the national forest oil and gas leases from being auctioned off.
They said that Buckeye Forest Council attorney Nathan Johnson had unearthed a letter from the Forest Service to the BLM documenting consent withdrawal by the Forest Service for a planned sale in another state.
"This is welcome and timely information," Heather Cantino, an organizer of the original sale protest and the Right the Wayne visit this week, said in the news release. "The Wayne has claimed that the decision to lease is out of its control. This shows that this is clearly not the case. This letter documents an important precedent to the action we are calling on the Wayne to take."
She noted that the consent withdrawal in the other national forest was based on only two protests, many fewer than have been lodged against the Wayne National Forest lease auction.
"Our community, including Ohio University, Athens County Commissioners, Burr Oak Water District, and various Athens City official bodies, filed a total of 34 formal protests, representing 48 organizations and individuals concerned about impacts of deep shale drilling and waste storage on drinking water, air quality, and our local economy," she said in the news release.
In the release, Milena Miller, a co-organizer of the letter writing campaign and visit, added, "I have spoken with many business owners, especially in Nelsonville, who are upset that they did not know in time to protest formally. They told me that their primary source of revenue is area tourism. They are very concerned about the impact of these sales on their businesses and our economy."
The lease auction has been set for dec. 7 in at the BLM's Easter States Office in Springfield, Va.
Opponents are concerned about threats to water supplies in the area, since much of the acreage open for leasing runs along the Hocking River near Nelsonville "and the aquifer that serves Nelsonville, LeAx (Water District), Athens city, and Burr Oak Regional Water District."
In his letter, Buckeye Forest Council attorney Johnson said the Forest Service will benefit from withdrawing its authorization for the lease sales.
"Withdrawing these parcels would resolve a number of legal problems before anyone involved has to deal with them," he wrote. "The law is clear that both a thorough analysis of horizontal hydro-fracking and a formal opportunity for public input were required before the Forest Service was allowed to give BLM the 'green light' to proceed. Unfortunately, neither of those requirements was met."
The Forest Council's formal protest states that the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Forest Service and BLM to consider economic, social and environmental impacts on the region.
The group presenting letters to the Wayne plans to travel to the Wayne headquarters from the Athens Farmers Market at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday to arrive for a 2 p.m. presentation, during which Athens city and county officials have been invited to speak, and business owners and residents to read from their protest letters. More than 1,000 letters and petition signatures will be delivered to Wayne officials, opponents confirmed.
They assume that the oil and gas leases, if auctioned off, will lead to horizontal hyrdo-fracking operations in the national forest, though area geologists have expressed skepticism that Athens County has the amount and type of shale oil and gas deposits that would be amenable to the fracking process.
Up to now, no horizontal fracking wells have been sunk in Athens County, though drilling companies have been buying up leases from private landowners.
Most informed sources say that until the first well is sunk, nobody can be sure of what sort of oil and gas development potential exists in this area.
In general, the oil and gas industry insists that fracking, if done properly, is safe and does not endanger water sources. They point to the environmental advantages of natural gas over coal and nuclear power, and even frame support of fracking as a patriotic issue, since more domestic energy production means less reliance on non-domestic sources.
Opponents, however, cite areas in other states where water supplies have been ruined by nearby fracking operations. In addition, they point out that the large footprint of a typical fracking operation, with constant truck traffic and noise, can threaten the quality of life in rural areas.
They also question why, if in fact Athens County doesn't have potential for an oil and gas boom, why companies are so busy trying to lock up private and public leases.