Wayne National Forest mineral auctions canceled

The withdrawal of two mineral leases set to be auctioned later this month in the Wayne National Forest was received with relief from an organization that had protested the proposal and frustration from the state trade organization for oil and gas interests.

The two plots, one of 35 acres and the other about 40 acres, are in Monroe County, and the mineral leases were scheduled for auction Sept. 20, according to an announcement in July by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM announced Aug. 28 that the auction was canceled, citing Title 43 Code of Federal Regulations, paragraphs 3120.1-3, but offering no further explanation.

That part of the code refers to suspending the offering of a parcel while an appeal is under consideration.

Wendy Park, a senior lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday that her organization’s protest was the only one she could find that was lodged against the lease offering.

Parks said the center opposed the lease because of its potential impact on nearby water bodies and settled areas.

“This is the first time the feds have pulled parcels from a Wayne National Forest lease auction after approving its fracking plan for the Wayne, in response to environmentalists’ concerns,” she said.

When the 400,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest was opened to oil and gas extraction leasing in 2016, she said, the environmental impact examination was general rather than site specific, and the leases offered since then have not taken local conditions into account.

“This is pretty much what we’ve been saying in all our protests, that they’re not taking a hard look at the impact of fracking on site-specific resources,” she said. In addition to endangered species of bats, she said, there also are public health and cultural concerns.

“There are homes and communities near these leases, and toxic chemicals and air pollution would certainly have an impact on the health of local residents,” she said. “They also have failed to comply with the obligation to make sure cultural and historical resources are not harmed.”

The BLM spokesperson named in the Aug. 28 announcement could not be contacted on Wednesday.

Parks said the center is pleased but will continue its work to curtail extraction in the Wayne National Forest.

“We hope this is a step in the right direction, and it seems they’re listening to our concerns, but it’s time for forest service and BLM to stop all fracking in the Wayne, it’s too dangerous to wildlife and human health,” she said. “We’re pleased the feds decided to take this step, but we would like to see them go further.”

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association, however, was not pleased by the decision, and its spokesman Mike Chadsey said the association members are frustrated with the federal government.

“The landowners are waiting for their minerals to be produced, and although about 90 percent of the minerals are under privately owed land, in order to get to some of that we have to go through public lands with horizontal (drilling),” he said. “Obviously, we are frustrated when sales are pulled, regardless of whether it’s two parcels or 200.”

Chadsey added that failure to offer mineral extraction comes at a price for public institutions such as school districts.

“The other piece of this, especially in Monroe County, is the schools,” he said. “Geographically, about half the county is in the Wayne. The producers, if they can’t get leases, will go somewhere else, while the school district desperately needs money.”

School districts that include federal lands receive payments in lieu of taxes, but when minerals are developed on those lands, the districts also receive production royalties, which can significantly increase their revenue.

“All you have to do is look at (private land mineral development in) Belmont or Jefferson counties, they have some monster wells, production is off the charts,” he said. “Even if a lease is offered (by the federal government) there are always delays in issuing permits. Why invest when you don’t know whether you’ll get a permit in 90 or even 120 days? If I had a lease today, I don’t know whether I would get a permit even in a year.”

Mineral payments to counties from production royalties in the Wayne amounted to nearly $1.5 million, according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

Wayne National Forest mineral leases

•Area offered: to parcels totaling about 75 acres.

•Announcement of auction: Aug. 7.

•Announcement of withdrawal: Aug. 28.

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