Photo Caption: Protesters of oil and gas drilling on the Wayne National Forest stand together during a rally at the Forest Headquarters in Nelsonville on May 23. Another rally is planned for this Wednesday.
Citizens interested in the issue of oil-and-gas drilling in the Wayne National Forest will have a chance to learn more about it at an "open house" scheduled for Wednesday evening.
A group opposed to allowing more drilling on the national forest has announced it plans to hold a rally during the event, and has suggested the "open house" format is too restrictive of public dialogue, and should be opened up by including a true "public forum" segment.
The open house is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. at the Wayne National Forest headquarters off U.S. Rt. 33 between Nelsonville and The Plains.
Agencies taking part will include the federal Bureau of Land Management, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, all of which are involved in managing oil and natural gas resources on the Wayne and regulating drilling.
The open house will address various aspects of oil and natural gas development on Wayne National Forest lands in southeast Ohio. Topics will include the history of the industry; regulation and permitting; groundwater protection; and hydraulic fracturing.
The event will be organized informally to allow people to visit various information "stations" and ask questions.
According to a news release on the event, the Wayne currently is home to 1,283 oil and natural gas wells, 62 percent on land where mineral rights are owned by a private party, not the federal government.
Twelve wells have been drilled since 2006, the release said, three on land where the feds own the minerals and nine where they don't. All existing wells on the Wayne are shallow, conventional vertical oil and gas wells.
Despite a drilling boom in eastern Ohio based in part on the "horizontal hydraulic fracturing" drilling technique, there are as yet no applications for horizontal hydro-fracking wells submitted for the Wayne.
Based on the possibility that there may be such applications in the future, the Wayne is now reviewing its Forest Plan, to determine whether its current environmental impact statement on drilling adequately takes into account the potential for increased environmental impacts on the forest surface from the horizontal fracking technique. Information on this process will be available to the public "soon," the release promised.
Two environmental groups have put out their own announcements in connection with the open house event.
The Athens County Fracking Action Network has called on citizens to rally at the Wayne headquarters during the event, to protest its format.
The open house format, according to rally organizer Christine Hughes, "will not allow community members to hear one another's questions and comments." People concerned about this issue, she added in the group's release, have been calling and writing Wayne officials to ask them to hold a true public forum during the second half of Wednesday's event. "We encourage people to keep up these calls," Hughes stated.
The group has called on the Wayne to forbid any new wells until such time as it has a new environmental impact statement that takes into account the increased impacts of the horizontal hydro-fracking technique.
The Buckeye Forest Council, a Columbus-based environmental group that was started in Athens, announced last week that it has joined with a number of other groups in sending a letter to Wayne Supervisor Anne Carey.
The letter, which can be viewed here, argues that the impacts of horizontal hydro-fracking should be given a formal analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act "now, prior to the sale of future leases and prior to the consideration of applications for permits to drill."
Other groups signing on to the letter include the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter; Environment Ohio; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the Center for Health, Environment and Justice; Heartwood; the Ohio Environmental Council; and Earthjustice.
Officials for Athens County, the city of Athens, and Ohio University last year sent letters to the Forest Service stating their opposition to any fracking near the Hocking River, from which all three draw their water supply.
For more information on the open house, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/wayne or call 753-0101.