Oil, gas lease auction of Forest land March 22

Two parcels in the Wayne National Forest, one in Monroe County, the other in Noble County, both near the boundaries of Washington County, will be offered for oil and gas auction on March 22.

The auction is part of the joint effort between the national forest and the Bureau of Land Management to allow access to energy production companies to public lands and generate revenue for the federal agencies and state government. The leases are offered quarterly, and the most recent one in December, which sold leases on five parcels in Monroe County totaling just more than 350 acres, generated nearly $1 million, according to BLM Eastern States sale summary records. The successful bidder on all the parcels was Triad Hunter LLC, with an office in Marietta, according to the records.

Proceeds from the leases are split between governments, with the federal government receiving a 12.5 percent royalty on proceeds from extraction and the state government receiving a minimum of 25 percent of the bonus bid and royalty revenue.

The March auction will include about 306 acres in Monroe County, just east of the Washington County line past New Matamoras, and about 40 acres in Noble County. The Noble County leases include stipulations to plug 14 abandoned gas wells and remove two tanks and associated oil field equipment.

The sales are opposed by several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council, a coalition of which filed a complaint in federal court in May. The lawsuit alleges that the Forest Service and the BLM failed to adequately assess the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction on public lands in lease offerings.

The Wayne National Forest covers about 240,000 acres of land in southeast Ohio, and about 40,000 acres is available for oil and gas leasing.

“The Wayne is our only national forest in Ohio, and some places are just too important and too special to develop,” said Nathan Johnson, public lands director of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Folks appreciate it and rely on it to enjoy nature, and for the most part shale and gas development are not compatible with that.”

Cheryl Johncox, organizer of the Sierra Club’s Move Beyond Fossil Fuels project and a resident of rural Union County, said the opposition from her group — which she said has 20,000 members in Ohio — is more generally based on advocacy for renewable and less damaging forms of energy coupled with a drive to preserve natural lands.

“We have protested these sales in the past and will continue to do so,” she said. “Folks enjoy going out to the Wayne National Forest for hunting, fishing, hiking, enjoying the flowers and bird watching. It’s the only national forest in our state, a rare opportunity to get out on public land with your family … Folks really feel like this is a gem for our state.”

Greg Fuhs, acting deputy state director of external communications for BLM Eastern States, noted that the lease sales do not include authorization to conduct any ground-disturbing activity.

“A lessee has 10 years from the date the lease is issued in which to submit an application for a permit to drill,” he said. “Only when (that permit) is issued can production begin.”

Fuhs said the individual parcels offered for lease are identified as part of a policy analysis. Companies, he said, can submit informal expressions of interest about particular parcels of public land, which the bureau can then review for availability and environmental concerns. In the case of the Wayne National Forest, the BLM has to receive consent from the Forest Service before offering the parcel for lease.

At a glance

Oil and gas lease auction, Wayne National Forest:

¯ Size of parcels: Noble County, 305.84 acres; Monroe County, 39.65 acres.

¯ Date of auction: March 22, 7:06 a.m. to 10:06 a.m.

¯ Leased acres in Wayne National Forest (June 2015): 38,858.

¯ Total area in the national forest: 240,101 acres.

¯ Active wells (June 2015): 493.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.