Anti-Fracking Groups Recycle Debunked Talking Points on Wayne National Forest

For four years, anti-fracking activists have made inaccurate claims about the negative implications of shale development in the Wayne National Forest. Their claims were finally put to bed in 2012, when the U.S. Forest Service approved fracking within Wayne.  Yet now, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) moves closer to the development of prime acreage in Monroe County, activist groups like the Athens County Fracking Action Network and the Buckeye Forest Council are recycling their old talking points in a misinformation campaign designed to stop this process.

In 2011 the BLM announced publicly the offering of 3,303 acres in Wayne National Forest for oil and gas leasing. The following month, activists led by the Columbus-based Buckeye Forest Council, Right the Wayne, and Athens County Fracking Action Network executed an attention-generating campaign, which included submitting letters to BLM, organizing protests, and garnering support from Athens City and county councils, as well as Ohio University’s President and some faculty. The activists’ 2011 arguments largely focused on misplaced and scientifically disproven fears of water contamination, as well as flatly wrong assertions regarding hydraulic fracturing regulations in Ohio and on federal lands.  The U.S. Forest Service then rescinded its leasing consent shortly before the scheduled public auction to undertake an environmental review.

Then in August 2012, following the Forest Service’s comprehensive report, the agency approved hydraulic fracturing within Wayne National Forest, and advised the BLM that the parcels of land in question in 2011 could move forward with processing.

Let’s take a moment to address the claims from the Athens County Fracking Action Network and Buckeye Forest Council and Right the Wayne (which have been debunked for many years) and look at the facts.

Claim: “The extensive data now available on water contamination from (hydraulic fracturing) around the country make (an EIS) clearly even more necessary in 2016 than it was in 2012.”

Fact: These groups made the same claim in 2012 and even made up a song about it, which they sang (off key) at the Wayne National Forest Ranger station.

For those of you who couldn’t make it through the video, here are the lyrics:

“You rulers of the forest, this song to you I’ll tell, do the impact study, save us from fracking hell.  Which side are you on boys,  which side are you on? Which side are you on girls? Which side are you on? Come on you good people, good news to you I’ll tell. If we’ll stick together we’ll save our water wells. Which side are you on boys which side are you on girls, which side are you on? We’re fighting for the future and for our sons and daughters to make our nation secure and leave them with clean water.”

This claim is comical. There has been extensive data available on water contamination – extensive data that supports that hydraulic fracturing does not cause ground water contamination!  In fact, the exact same researchers who previously claimed that groundwater in the Marcellus region was being contaminated by shale development released a new study finding no evidence that hydraulic fracturing fluids have migrated up into drinking water.  This finding is consistent with what independent scientists and regulators have been saying about fracking for years.  Futhermore, the EPA’s five year study of fracking and groundwater released this summer found no evidence for widespread water contamination, and any issues that were identified were isolated and small compared to the total number of wells drilled.

Claim: “You have greatly confused our community and thus not provided adequate notice for a meeting to be held in two weeks, for which you have NOT YET provided adequate public notice.”

Fact:  The BLM has already hosted several meetings and opportunities for public comment and involvement  on drilling in the forest in 2011 and 2012. The meetings were part of the widespread environmental review of the forest plan, which included an extensive comment period. In fact, Heather Cantino, spokesperson for Athens County Fracking Action Network, attended one of these meetings in September 2012. That meeting was hosted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service and it focused on the environmental review process to allow drilling in the Wayne National Forest. In 2012, Ms. Cantino said, “They haven’t been listening to us for the last six months. The (open house) is just a ploy to once again not listen to the community.”  Not to mention Ms. Cantino also offered up a letter of protest to the BLM on October 7, 2011.

Fast forward to 2015, and Ms. Cantino is now questioning the public notice given to the community, which was advertised in the local paper, and has since been circulated through papers throughout Ohio, including the Columbus Dispatch. Regarless of Ms. Cantino’s claims, the NEPA Handbook, which is the guide the BLM uses for this process, clearly states:

“While some public involvement is required in the preparation of an EA, you have the discretion to determine how much, and what kind of involvement works best for each individual EA. For preparation of an EA, public involvement may include any of the following: external scoping, public notification before or during preparation of an EA, public meetings, or public review and comment of the completed EA and unsigned FONSI. The type of public involvement is at the discretion of the decision-maker. When you need to prepare many EAs for similar projects in a short timeframe, it may be helpful to prepare a programmatic EA to cover those projects and to facilitate focused public involvement.”

In recent months landowners and concerned citizens have also spoken out against the Buckeye Forest Council and Athens County Fracking Action Network, calling on folks to “Let BLM Know You Support Fracking”. One Athens resident, Abe Alassaf recently said,

“We just secured a victory for private property rights in Athens County by defeating the out-of-state environmentalists’ unconstitutional charter amendment initiative. Now, we have a new opportunity to protect private property rights by approving energy development in the Wayne National Forest. As it currently stands, property owners throughout southeastern Ohio with private land next to the Wayne are blocked from realizing the full value of their mineral rights because, without federal approval, oil and gas cannot be developed under the Wayne. It’s critical for our property rights, local economy, and environment that we don’t let environmental extremists block the development of our abundant shale resources.”

Claim: “You haven’t done the scoping that can help determine whether an EA or an EIS (environmental impact statement) is the appropriate analysis.”

Fact:  On August 27, 2012 a Review of Information (RONI) was filed by the U.S. Forest Service. The RONI included a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the revised Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) for the Wayne National Forest (WNF), which included a thorough review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). Scoping was conducted and verified adequacy of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition, the NEPA Handbook for BLM has an entire chapter to this point, Chapter 7entitled, “DETERMINING WHETHER AN EA OR EIS IS APPROPRIATE”. According to the handbook,

“You may prepare an EA for an action that has some significant impacts if the EA is tiered to a broader EIS which fully analyzed those significant impacts (see section 5.2.2, Tiering). For such a tiered EA, you must document in the FONSI a determination that the potentially significant effects have already been analyzed, and no other effects reach significance. Only significant effects that have not been analyzed in an existing EIS will trigger the need for a new EIS.”

Clearly a tiered Environmental Assessment fits into this category, as a broader EIS has already been conducted in 2012.

The Buckeye Forest Council, Athens County Fracking Action Network, and the various anti-fracking groups in Ohio continue to loose traction and are consistently defeated at the polls, in court rooms, and in the court of public opinion.  Hopefully the BLM recognizes this and will continue to look to the science and listen to the landowners with property near the Wayne National Forest, when making this important decision.

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