Ohio University has written a letter protesting the planned leasing of Wayne National Forest land in Athens County for oil and gas development.

In the letter to the federal Bureau of Land Management, OU President Roderick McDavis asks that the land be withdrawn from the Dec. 7 lease auction.

The auction includes 3,302 acres of Wayne land, including 2,624 acres in Athens County, all in York Twp.

Athens City Council, the Athens County Commissioners, environmental groups and others have written letters protesting the auction, raising concerns that the area’s aquifer could be contaminated if horizontal hydraulic fracturing is used to drill on the leased land.

“To date, there is insufficient research on the effects the proposed activities from the sale of oil and gas leases would have on our community and campus,” McDavis writes. “We understand that the Athens City Council has also offered a protest of this sale. We echo their concerns for regional water safety.”

The letter was dated Thursday, with Friday being the last day to file protests.

“It is our duty as an institution of higher education to lead and support our campus and greater community as we seek safe living conditions, healthy economies and fertile lands where we live and work,” McDavis writes. “The potential Dec. 7, 2011 sale of the publicly owned lands referenced above poses a threat to a healthy living and learning environment at Ohio University.”

McDavis also calls for an environmental and economic analysis to take place before any leasing of the Wayne land is considered.

“Ohio University is currently unable to support a practice that is not strictly regulated and highly accountable,” McDavis writes. “We request the withdrawal of the lease sale until a comprehensive, objective environmental and economic analysis is conducted and the absence of risk to our water supply, community health and local economy can be assured.”

According to the auction notice issued by the BLM, the bureau will announce at the beginning of the sale if it has received any protests and also announce a decision to either withdraw a protested parcel or proceed with offering it for sale.

The BLM will not issue a lease to a winning bidder while a protest is pending, and tries to decide protests within 60 days after the sale.

Once a lease has been sold, there is then an appeal process.

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