Court stalls fracking leases in Ohio’s only national forest
COLUMBUS ― Late on Monday, a federal judge stalled oil and gas leasing in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, ruling that the Trump administration failed to consider threats to public health, endangered species and watersheds before opening more than 40,000 acres of the forest for fracking.
U.S. District Judge Michael Watson said the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management “demonstrated a disregard for the different types of impacts caused by fracking in the Forest. The agencies made decisions premised on a faulty foundation.”
Watson’s ruling requires the agencies to redo their environmental analysis of the potential harms from fracking in the Wayne.
“Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This ruling helps ensure the health of this spectacular forest and its endangered animals and protects the water source for millions of people.”
In May 2017 conservation groups sued the Forest Service and the BLM over plans to permit fracking in the Wayne, saying federal officials had relied on an outdated plan and ignored significant environmental threats before approving fracking in the forest. The lawsuit also aimed to void two BLM lease sales. The court will decide later whether to void those existing leases, but a planned March sale will likely be postponed.
In today’s ruling the judge said the agencies ignored potential harm from fracking to endangered Indiana bats, the waters of the Little Muskingum River and the region’s air quality.
“This is a huge win for people, for wildlife and for the forest,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney and public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “This effort dates back to at least 2011, when southeast Ohio communities came together to oppose fracking in the Wayne. Today’s ruling is a culmination of citizen effort and it reaffirms that federal agencies must consider the environmental impacts of oil and gas development.”
The BLM’s leasing plan would industrialize Ohio’s only national forest with roads, well pads and gas lines, the lawsuit asserts. This would destroy Indiana bat habitat, pollute watersheds and water supplies that support millions of people, and would endanger other federally protected species in the area.
“Today’s victory is a result of the tireless efforts from communities across southeast Ohio,” said Elly Benson, attorney for the Sierra Club. “We applaud this decision that will help protect the Wayne National Forest from fracking, allowing Ohioans ― and people from all over ― to continue to enjoy and explore the forest.”
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