Ban sought on new fossil fuel leasing in Wayne National Forest

Environmental groups today called on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt all new fossil fuel leasing in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest over concerns about the harmful impact of fracking.

The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council and Friends of the Earth are also challenging BLM’s plans to lease up to 40,000 acres of the Athens Ranger District, Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest, which would open it up to new oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Marcellus and Utica shales. In its environmental assessment, BLM proposed a “finding of no significant impact,” failing to take into account the impacts fracking would have on air quality, water quality, wildlife, and climate change. The Wayne National Forest is home to rare and endangered species including bobcats, Indiana bats, timber rattlesnakes and cerulean warblers.

“It’s unconscionable that we could ever permit drilling in Ohio’s only national forest,” said Jen Miller, Director of Sierra Club Ohio. “This forest is owned by the people for their enjoyment—not for the oil and gas industry to destroy. Permitting fracking will disrupt wildlife, threaten clean water resources, and reduce recreation and tourism. It should and must be preserved for this generation and those to come.”

In the letter submitted, the groups called for BLM to cease all new leasing of fossil fuels in Wayne National Forest, or, at minimum, defer the proposed leasing pending a programmatic review of the federal fossil fuel leasing program.

“The science is clear: avoiding the worst impacts of climate change requires keeping untapped fossil fuels in the ground,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Opening new areas to development — let alone our public lands – directly conflicts with that science and delays a transition to clean, renewable energy.”

According to the groups, BLM ignored the disastrous consequences of constructing pipelines and compressor stations in its analysis, stating that new construction would further scar and cut the Wayne into smaller patches of forestland. They added that many of the important wildlife species found in Wayne National Forest depend on large uninterrupted swaths of forest, and BLM’s analysis trivialized the impact of segmenting the forest.

“Fracking in Wayne National Forest is inconsistent with the government’s responsibility to sustain the health and diversity of the national forest,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. “We call on BLM and the Wayne to reject fossil fuel extraction in Ohio’s only national forest.”

“Exposing the Wayne National Forest to the devastation of fossil fuel development contradicts President Obama’s pledge to address the urgent threat of climate change, said Marissa Knodel, Climate Campaigner, Friends of the Earth. “Every new lease puts the brakes on accelerating the just transition to a clean energy economy. Present and future generations of Ohioans want a healthy forest, not an energy sacrifice zone. The Bureau of Land Management must ban new fossil fuel development in the Wayne National Forest and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

BLM is expected to decide on the future of fossil fuel leasing in Wayne National Forest this year.

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