NELSONVILLE — Business owners, residents and environmental activists gathered Wednesday at the Wayne National Forest headquarters to thank officials for putting the brakes on an oil and gas lease auction of Wayne land.
Right the Wayne, a campaign opposed to the leasing, had scheduled a protest event for Wednesday, but when organizers heard of halting the leasing, they changed the tone of the event to one of praise for forest officials’ decision. Approximately 50 people attended the event, which included community members and local government officials.
“This decision represents the wisdom, commitment and amazing depth of knowledge and caring you have for the community,” Heather Cantino, an organizer for the Right the Wayne campaign, said at the event. “Thank you for taking this first step to listen to our concerns.”
Wayne Forest Supervisor Anne Carey recommended that Wayne land be withdrawn from the auction and that a study be done of the impacts of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process also known as fracking. Those recommendations were supported by the regional forester and were forwarded to the Bureau of Land Management. The Bureau of Land Management has an auction scheduled for Dec. 7.
The auction was to include 2,624 acres in Athens County’s York Twp., 528 acres in Perry County’s Monroe Twp. and 151 acres in Gallia County’s Harrison Twp.
Right the Wayne presented approximately 1,900 letters, petition signatures and email responses opposing fracking in the forest. In addition, 34 formal protest letters were sent to the BLM offices.
Athens resident Mary Anne Flournoy said she was in attendance because she had seen the damage fracking can do to the environment. Flournoy said her husband’s family in Texas has a farm with a fracked well on it, and it has caused environmental damage to the land.
“I don’t want to see that happen here,” she said.
COAD employee and Athens resident Meghan Rodier said she was in attendance to show her support for taking a more in-depth look at fracking and its impacts.
“I don’t agree with it,” she said. “I’d like to see people exploring alternative energy options.”
Shade-area resident Gerald Chorba said he thinks fracking is a “horror” and should not be used in the Wayne, especially since the forest is already slowly recovering from other environmental damage from mining in the past.
“It’s a shame because the Wayne is finally recovering from the horrors of the extracting industry,” he said. “(This protest) is drawing a line in the sand that it will not happen here, and is recognizing how dangerous it is.”
The original consent for the leasing, given by the U.S. Forest Service in May, was based on the 2006 Forest Plan, which included an environmental impact statement that did not address fracking.
Carey said the forest’s natural resource specialists will investigate fracking and deep horizontal drilling and determine the surface effects either would have on the forest. That review will assist Wayne officials if the plan would need to be amended. The plan is an agreement with the public, Carey said, that shows ways to mitigate any impacting activity occurring in the forest. Carey said that process could take about six months.