BLM Holds Mineral Lease Sale for Wayne National Forest
After five long years, the debate over the merit of leasing federal minerals to be used for fracking in the Wayne National Forest has come to an end. Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held a competitive online auction sale of 17 parcels and approximately 719 acres.
Initially, BLM offered 33 parcels for sale but found it wasn’t able to sell them because they either were already under lease or the federal government does not actually own the minerals. The BLM also rendered a “Decision Record for Environmental Assessment” for the final environmental assessment and upheld its previous conclusion that there would be “no significant impact” to the Wayne from fracking. It also upheld its conclusion that leasing federal minerals is consistent with the final revised Land and Resource Management Plan, which states,
“Provide a supply of mineral commodities for current and future generations, while protecting the long-term health and biological diversity of ecosystem. Facilitate the orderly exploration, development, and production of mineral and energy resources on land open to these activities.”
The debate over leasing federal minerals in the WNF started in 2011 and has been ongoing for a half decade despite the fact that the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service is in fact mandated by four federal laws to lease federal minerals. To recap the timeline of events leading up to today’s sale:
- In 2011, the BLM announced a lease sale similar to the one held today. But that sale was pulled because the Forest Plan at the time did not address horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This decision set in motion a roughly year-long chain of events in which the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as consultations with state agencies and tribes, reviewed the merits of fracking in the Wayne and updated the Forest Plan accordingly.
- In 2012, the public was given opportunity to weigh in on this process, which ultimately led to the decision to allow fracking the Wayne. Shortly after — as Utica Shale exploration started proving reserves farther south in the play, including the prolific natural gas found in Monroe County — interest in leasing federal minerals in the Wayne surged, particularly because the federal minerals in Monroe County are not contiguous.
- So in 2015, due to the overwhelming interest to develop mineral in the Wayne, the BLM thought it appropriate to again review the merits of fracking, conducting another environmental review while engaging in significant public scoping and comment. This added layer of bureaucracy, included three public meetings and the creation of a website specifically for the public to engage. The BLM stated it received 3,400 comments to develop its initial draft Environmental Assessment, which determined a “Finding of No Significant Impact” in the spring of this year.
- After this initial decision, the BLM engaged the public again, receiving 14,480 email and U.S. Mail comments. However, only 300 were “substantive” comments. In other words, only 300 comments were legitimate.
- After receipt of those legitimate comments, the BLM issued a final decision and Environmental Assessment, again allowing leasing to move forward. After this final decision took place this fall, the public was (yet again) provided the opportunity to protest the final decision. In the recent Decision of Record, the BLM stated that they “received 105 protests, of which 100 were valid,” but only three addressed “unique substantive” issues. These three protests were not relevant enough to hold up today’s online auction sale.
In summary, the public has had at least four separate opportunities to submit comment, there have been at least four public meetings, and after five years, the BLM has decided on four separate occasions to allow leasing.
The truth is, despite misleading and factually inaccurate headlines, there is in fact a tremendous amount of support from people who actually live and work in Monroe and Washington counties and who respectfully participated in the process with the BLM. The support comes from elected officials (of both parties), landowners, economic development groups, unions and concerned citizens who deserve to see their counties receive the same economic boon that other Ohio counties have experienced from oil and gas activity.
These groups echo a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) showing that 84 percent of Buckeye State residents say they would like to see increased energy development in the United States, including development in the Wayne. Today’s federal mineral action sale is a win for Ohio and especially a win for private landowners.