The U.S. Forest Service has rescinded its consent for a proposed leasing of more than 3,300 acres in the Wayne National Forest for oil and gas drilling.
Also, the Forest Service announced it will be conducting a review of the environmental impacts of drilling for gas and oil in Utica and Marcellus shale, according to Jane Cliff, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s District 9 office in Wisconsin.
Both actions were recommended Monday by Anne Carey, who became the Wayne National Forest’s supervisor a week ago.
“Based on this advertisement (for the lease auction), new information and increased public interest in the Utica and Marcellus shale formation has prompted us to review the potential effects that this potential gas exploration and development may have on the WNF,” Carey said in a letter to the regional forester in Wisconsin. “The Wayne plans to prepare a review of new information for natural gas exploration and development in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.”
Cliff said the regional forester concurred and forwarded the consent withdrawal request to the federal Bureau of Land Management, which had planned a Dec. 7 lease auction. She said any decision to cancel the auction of Wayne leases would have to come from the BLM.
According to Cliff, the review regarding shale drilling will take a number of months.
That 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.
According to Cliff, the original consent was based on an environmental impact statement from 2006, at which time horizontal hydraulic fracturing — a method of shale drilling — was not an issue. The drilling process, called fracking, involves pumping water and chemicals deep underground and then horizontally to fracture shale deposits and release oil and gas.
Opponents of the leasing are concerned because of the potential for drilling accidents that could contaminate the aquifer used by Nelsonville, Athens, Le-Ax Water District and Burr Oak Regional Water District. Industry officials say the process is safe.
Gary Chancey, public information officer for the Wayne, said Monday that Wayne officials have been gathering information about hydraulic horizontal fracturing.
In fact, Carey and Chancey meet Monday with opponents of the proposed leasing, including Heather Cantino of the Buckeye Forest Council.
Cantino, interviewed by The Messenger prior to the announcement of the consent withdrawal, called the meeting “very productive” and said she was preparing a packet of information on fracking for Wayne officials.
In addition to Carey, Chancey and Cantino, Monday’s meeting included Loraine McCosker, a member of the Sierra Club, and Christine Hughes, an Athens businesswoman.
As The Messenger reported Sunday, organizers of a “Right the Wayne” campaign had planned to deliver more than 1,000 protest letters and petition signatures Wednesday to the Wayne headquarters near Nelsonville, opposing the leasing.
In an interview prior to Monday’s announcement, Buckeye Forest Council attorney Nathan Johnson said he felt there was a strong legal argument against the leasing because the Forest Service’s original consent was based on the environmental impact statement that did not consider fracking.
Johnson also said there has been “unprecedented” opposition to the leasing.
According to the BLM website, 34 letters protesting the leasing were received by the BLM, including letters from the Athens County Commissioners, Athens City Council and Ohio University.