The Bureau of Land Management will auction leasing rights
to 1,676 acres of the Wayne National Forest via online auction on Dec. 13. It’s not quite like eBay, though; this land is earmarked expressly for oil and natural gas drillers — private companies that will use the forest for non-renewable energy production.
The news signals a deep and ongoing commitment among Ohio politicians and the federal government to inextricably tie the state’s public (and private) land to fossil fuel production and infrastructure
The BLM’s stance manages to shoe-horn the word “sustainable” twice into its public explanation: “The oil and gas leasing program managed by the BLM encourages the sustainable development of domestic oil and gas reserves which reduces the dependence of the United States on foreign sources of energy as part of its multiple-use and sustainable yield mandate.”
Still, though, the impending loss of acres in Ohio’s only national forest (distinct from a national park) has prompted environmental advocacy groups across the state to fight back.
“This fall, we’ve been continuing to try and educate the public and influence the forest supervisor, Kathleen Atkinson,” says Heather Cantino, member of the Athens County Fracking Action Network, one of the most active groups working against drilling in southeast Ohio.
Based on recent BLM auctions, an acre of federal public land can sell for as little as $1.50. But average U.S. residents can’t just sign in and bid on these acres; these properties are meant only for private mineral extraction. (“There are very stiff penalties now for trying to lease when you do not intend to actually extract the oil and gas,” Cantino says.) Environmental advocates have successfully placed bids in other federal auctions, only to have their leases revoked. A Utah man spent 21 months in prison for placing the winning bids on 14 parcels of land in that state.
The concerns don’t end on auction day, however.
The idea, also, is that the lease rights will open up access to private land in the vicinity — access to mineral rights that will now be easier for energy companies to negotiate. (Fracking companies need contiguous access to get at specific underground natural gas supplies. The process is also known as “horizontal drilling,” so one might easily imagine how vast swaths of shale can be reached from one particular drilling location.) “Those are cumulative impacts that are not addressed at all in the EA [environmental assessment],” Cantino says of the scope of this inevitable drilling.
In 2011, then-forest supervisor Anne Carey pulled more than 3,000 Wayne National Forest acres from an upcoming auction. It remains unlikely that current leadership will follow that example. “This will provide us an opportunity to study the surface impacts associated with this deep drilling and see if the surface impacts will be within the zone of what we analyzed for impacts for oil and gas,” she told the Ironton tribune in 2011. “This deep drilling is new technology that wasn’t on the horizon when we did our forest plan in 2006.”
Those acres were not returned to the auction block until this year.
A change.org petition
currently boasts some 97,000 signatures of people opposed to this auction.