Wayne National Forest halts lease sale

Published 9:23 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NELSONVILLE — U.S. Forest Service officials announced Tuesday that more than 3,000 acres of land in the Wayne National Forest has been removed from an approaching federal oil and gas lease sale.

Wayne National Forest Supervisor Anne Carey, who has been on the job less than a week, said the forest service will study how new extraction methods, particularly deep horizontal drilling and lateral hydraulic fracturing or fracking, will affect forest surface lands.

According to Carey, the decision was driven primarily by public interest and concerns about water quality in connection with these new methods of extraction, which are being used in the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations spanning Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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“This will provide us an opportunity to study the surface impacts associated with this deep drilling and see if the surface impacts will be within the zone of what we analyzed for impacts for oil and gas,” Carey explained. “This deep drilling is new technology that wasn’t on the horizon when we did our forest plan in 2006.”

The Review of New Information (RONI) will assist the forest service in making a decision whether the 2006 Forest Plan needs to be amended or revised, according to officials. Carey said forest plans typically last 10 to 15 years.

The review could take up to six months and will disclose the effects associated with this new technology on the surface of forest lands. There are 1,280 shallow oil and gas wells in operation inside the Wayne National Forest at this time but all are shallow wells and utilize older technology in use at the time the forest plan was created, Carey said.

The proposed lease sale of five parcels in Athens, Gallia, and Perry counties, was set for Dec. 7 and would have been administered by the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management Eastern States office in Va.

Leases for lands in three other national forests in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as on private lands where the government owns mineral rights, will still take place that day, according to the bureau’s web site.

Carey said the forest service’s decision to remove the lands in Wayne National Forest from the sale was not influenced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to study the effects of fracking on ground water. The agency plans to release preliminary results in 2012, with its final report expected in 2014.

Proposed state legislation in Ohio that, if approved, would place a temporary moratorium on deep horizontal drilling while the EPA study is pending, was also not a factor in the decision, Carey said.

Any changes in regulations made by federal or state regulators would almost certainly affect future oil and gas extraction in the Wayne National Forest.