Wayne headquarters

Wayne National Forest headquarters.

As the lead federal agency for federally owned minerals across the United States, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will begin Environmental Assessments (EAs) to consider whether or not to lease parcels on approximately 31,900 acres of the Wayne National Forest for potential oil and gas development.

However, some environmentalists are charging that insufficient information about the proposal has been available in advance of the scheduled public meetings.

Meanwhile, a pro-drilling group – LEASE – issued a release Monday praising the BLM for scheduling public scoping meetings in Athens and other small cities near the Wayne National Forest.

Following the completion of each EA, according to a news release from the BLM, a decision will be made by the agency’s Northeastern States District to either approve leasing parcels, not approve leasing parcels, or complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address leasing.

As part of the process, public meetings will be held in Marietta, Ironton and Athens – all small Ohio cities near separate districts of the Wayne National Forest. The Athens meeting is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the Athens Community Center.

The meetings are intended to receive public comments on leasing federally owned minerals beneath the Wayne forest. Acres of interest by unit are included below, followed by time and location of the public meeting for each specified unit.

Being considered for oil and gas development are 18,800 acres in the Marietta Unit of the Athens Ranger District (in Washington County); 9,975 acres in the Ironton Unit of the Ironton Ranger District (in Gallia County); and 3,150 acres in the Athens Unit of the Athens Ranger District (some in York Township, Athens County, and some in Monroe Township in Perry County).

EAs will be conducted by a team of subject matter experts from the BLM in coordination with Wayne National Forest resource and technical specialists, and will consider the benefits and impacts associated with energy development, according to the news release.

Local environmental activist Heather Cantino strongly criticized the scheduled public hearing in a Nov. 2 letter to BLM official.

“You have greatly confused our community and thus not provided adequate notice for a meeting to be held in two weeks, for which you have NOT YET provided adequate public notice,” she wrote.

Cantino serves as steering committee chair for the Athens County Fracking Action Network as well as a vice chair for the board of the Buckeye Forest Council.

In her email, Cantino said her groups would like to see documents related to the Wayne National Forest oil and gas proposal “well before any scheduled meeting.”

She further charged that the BLM cannot have started an environmental assessment on the proposal “when you haven't done the scoping that can help determine whether an EA or an EIS (environmental impact statement) is the appropriate analysis.”

Her anti-fracking groups, she said, have repeatedly argued that “the extensive data now available on water contamination from (hydraulic fracturing) around the countrymake (an EIS) clearly even more necessary in 2016 than it was in 2012.”

Cantino asked the BLM to cancel the Nov. 18 meeting and to provide documents with sufficient time for review before a rescheduled public meeting.

In a separate release on Monday, Becky Clutter, founder of a new pro-drilling group, Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration (LEASE), praised the BLM.

“In announcing public scoping hearings, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took a positive step forward in opening up the Wayne National Forest for energy development and restoring private property rights for southeastern Ohio landowners,” she said. “In holding scoping hearings for shale development in the Wayne National Forest, the BLM is listening to the voices of hundreds of southeastern Ohioans who support continued energy development in the Wayne.”

She charged that “a small group of extreme environmentalists hijacked this debate four years ago and effectively blocked hard-working, southeastern Ohio landowners from realizing the full value of their minerals.”

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