Despite concerns from Ohio residents and environmental groups, our federal government has decided to lease up to 40,000 acres of public land in the Wayne National Forest (WNF) for hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced an online auction to lease the initial 1,600 acres of forest land in the Forest’s Marietta Unit for gas extraction.

The BLM skirted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not completing a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) concerning the cumulative effects of fracking within the WNF and surrounding areas. The BLM based its final decision on an outdated Forest Plan from 2006, which did not give serious evaluation to fracking, because it was not considered likely or viable at the time.

Various Ohio residents and groups have come together to oppose this action, including Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) and the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC). A legal protest was filed by OEC during the formal protest period, which ended on Nov. 14. It is not known yet whether the BLM will consider this protest. More than 97,000 signatures were collected and the petition hand delivered to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and BLM in Washington D.C. by representatives of two groups, Sproutogether and ACFAN. 

On a local level, more than 200 residents of the Marietta area signed a petition asking Forest Service Forester Kathleen Atkinson to withdraw her consent and pull the parcels from the auction. Hundreds of phone calls have been made to BLMand U.S. Forest Service officials, and a proposed resolution was submitted to the city of Marietta and New Matamoras. Even with these efforts, the threat to our forest looms.  

“Although USFS points to a meeting it sponsored in Marietta last November in which some attendees supported drilling, I learned of people who went who were opposed but not heard,” said Marietta resident Bonie Bolen. “Many of us didn’t even know about the meeting.”

The Wayne is Ohio’s only national forest. “Talking with residents, we have found that many are shocked to hear that this could happen here. WNF is a place where people love to hike, hunt, boat, fish, camp and enjoy nature in its wild (state),” said Joy Adams, an outdoor enthusiast. “Although a national forest operates under the ‘Multiple Use’ mandate, one use cannot exclude, prevent or destroy another use. National forests are public lands that are meant to be enjoyed by all. If we open it to fracking, it seriously limits residents’ ability to use the land for hunting, fishing and hiking. Further, it threatens biodiversity of the forest itself.” 

I truly believe that people are concerned about the health, environmental, and economic impacts fracking could have on their community. Fracking involves the use of chemicals and hazardous materials; these chemicals can cause severe adverse health effects such as serious birth defects and lung diseases, and is suspected in the deaths of residents of fracked areas as well as workers in the industry around the country.”

Bonie Bolen also expressed concerns about local residents’ water safety. She stated, “Within the Wayne, a lot of private land lays adjacent to public forest land, including the proposed parcels for fracking; many people in the area get their water from natural springs or ground water wells. The potential for contamination is very concerning.”

Joy Adams added, “Fracking exposes public and private land to documented devastation, such as the loss of biodiversity, release of methane, surface/ground water contamination, and an increase in seismic activity. These issues have not been adequately assessed and there is no protocol that guarantees the safety of the public or WNF.”

A protest has been announced by ACFAN and others in a Save the Wayne coalition at Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office at 200 N. High St. in Columbus at 11:30 a.m. today (Thursday, Dec. 8). Another group is planning one on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the entrance of the Athens Ranger Station, 13700 U.S. Highway 33 southeast of Nelsonville from 9 a.m. to noon.

For more information, see documents and links at acfan.org and ACFAN’s Wayne page. 

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Bolen is a Marietta native who lives in Columbus. She’s a musician, activist and child-care provider who grew up on 60 acres in southeast Ohio.

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