Anti-Fracking Activists Send (Yet Another) Fact Free Letter to Bureau of Land Management

Anti-fracking activists groups are up to the same tired shenanigans in Ohio, sending yet another letter to a federal agency against oil and gas development in the state. You may recall earlier this year when ban-fracking groups sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), and then later wrote a 15 page letter to the EPA regarding injection wells. What all these letters have in common is that they fail to provide facts to support their arguments.

This latest effort is simply more of the same as the Buckeye Forest Council, Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Athens County Fraction Action Network, Appalachian Ohio Group of the Sierra Club and the Fresh Water Accountability Project ignore science and data to push their anti-fracking agenda.

This time around, activists have submitted a formal protest to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the upcoming public hearings to lease minerals in the Wayne National Forest (WNF). Unlike the last two letters penned by known activist Teresa Mills, this time they brought in legal counsel to draft the letter. But even with the help of an attorney, the letter simply re-hashes the groups’ previous unsuccessful attempts to stop oil and natural gas development in the WNF.

Let’s take a look at some of what that letter from Ohio’s extremely small group of activists (who these days, can’t even pull together a small group of protesters in Columbus) says.

Claim: “Both the FEIS and the later review revealed (Forest Service) FS’ and BLM’s inconsequential understanding of the monstrous implication of industrializing Ohio’s premier forest via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.”

Fact: The U.S. Forest Service (FS) and the BLM have a very long history involving oil and gas development. Congress actually established the responsibility of the federal government to lease minerals in 1920 through the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. This duty was again re-affirmed in 1987 with subsequent amendments included in the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987, which helped to clarify the relationship between the BLM relative to leasing federal minerals and the surface management agency.  As such, the WNF has been managing drilling for nearly a century and continues to do so today with over 1,200 active wells on the surface of national forests. The claim, that the agencies somehow have “inconsequential understanding” of oil and gas development is completely erroneous.

As a case-in-point, just a few months ago a handful of anti-fracking activists, spearheaded by 350.org, gathered in front of the White House to tell President Obama to “keep it [oil and gas] in the ground” in an effort to stop new leases on federal lands.  But as Politico Pro succinctly put it, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell “delivered a tough message to a coalition of environmentalists.” At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor today, Secretary Jewell pointed out,

“We are a nation that continues to be dependent on fossil fuels… It oversimplifies a very complex situation to suggest that one could simply cut off leasing or drilling on public lands and solve the issue of climate change.  You can’t just cut it off over night and expect to have an economy that is in fact the leader of the world.”

She added,

“Most of you burned fossil fuels one way or another to get here.”

This letter to the BLM demonstrates the activists’ fundamental lack of understanding of the authority given to agencies to conduct oil and gas related activities, which has been defined by both policy and upheld through statute.

Claim: It appears activist have attempted to completely re-write the U.S. EPA study on groundwater and hydraulic fracturing and ignored fact as the letter states, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently published a long-awaited study that proves water resources are threatened, and sometimes actually harmed, by poor oversight of fracking schemes.”

Fact: For the record, the EPA did release an extensive five year 1,000 page study with regard to groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing. The report concluded “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development verified the study “is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.” Furthermore, the EPA report corroborates a “landmark study” by the U.S. Department of Energy in which the researchers injected tracers into hydraulic fracturing fluid and found no groundwater contamination after twelve months of monitoring. It is also in line with reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Government Accountability Office, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Groundwater Protection Council, to name just a few.

Claim: “The global warming implications of promoting the development of fracking on public lands have not been examined for the Wayne.  Methane is 86 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and accelerating anthropocene warming of the planet.  No serious analysis of environmental effects can overlook the constant releases of methane that accompany drilling and transport of the fracked methane from the wells.”

Fact:  As for the issue of methane emissions, and potential impacts on global warming, since 2011, EPA data has shown methane emissions from oil and natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin, which includes Ohio’s Utica Shale, have fallen in excess of 55 percent. This impressive reduction was due to voluntary efforts as well as modifications to OEPA’s general permitting process in 2014, which established Ohio’s regulatory system for oil and gas air emissions as among the most stringent in the country. The modifications – put into place by the Division of Air Pollution Control – focus heavily on the upstream side of shale development by reducing fugitive emissions from various points of production. Ohio is one of three states to require quarterly monitoring using “Forward Looking Infra Red” (FLIR) cameras, or similar analyzers meeting U.S. EPA recommendations to detect emissions. In Ohio, operators must test and monitor for any fugitive emissions taking place onsite on a quarterly basis. These new modifications continue to keep Ohio at the forefront when regulating shale development across the United States.

Claim: The letter states that the purpose of the upcoming meetings is “unclear” and calls for a “formal disclosure of Expressions of Interests” (EOIs). In addition, the letter calls for a “formal notice from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management which announces the plan to produce a new Environmental Impact Statement be published in the Federal Register” and a “180-day period for public scoping comments, replete with hearings to take statements from the public.”

Fact: As EID reported last week, activists are rehashing old claims with regard to public notice requirements and public involvement of the process. The purpose of the upcoming BLM meetings on leasing the Wayne National Forest has been made perfectly clear. In fact, the “Expressions of Interest” these groups say hasn’t been formally disclosed can easily be accessed here on the BLM website. The website clearly states,

“The Bureau of Land Management Northeastern States District (NSD) will begin an Environmental Assessment (EA) to consider whether o not to lease parcels for the purpose of potential oil and gas exploration and development. Parcels under consideration total approximately 31,900 acres of the Wayne NF, of which approximately 18,800 acres are on the Marietta Unit. Following the completion of the EA on the Marietta Unit parcels, a decision will be made by the BLM to approve leasing parcels, not approve leasing parcels, or complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address leasing. The EA will be conducted by a team of subject matter experts from the BLM in coordination with the Wayne National Forest resource and technical specialist, and will consider the benefits and impacts associated with energy development.”

After this initial process commences, the agency will decide on further actions, which will be presented in a draft form available for public comment, as clearly stated in the BLM National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Handbook, Chapter 6.9. Once the Environmental Assessment (EA) is completed, a process which incorporates consultation with many federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, and various state and federal agencies, will take place and a draft EA will be subject to a 30-day comment period. The Notice of Lease Sale is also subject to a 90 day comment period. In other words, the soonest auction sale for the minerals in question couldn’t take place until at least June 2016. Activists’ claims that they are not given transparency into this process, nor the ability to weigh in via public comment, is simply absurd and without merit.

Claim: The letter claims, “The 2006 Forest Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the 2012 Supplemental Information report (SIR)-were poorly conceived and inadequate,” and also states, “The SIR was hidden from the public.” In addition, activists allege that the 2012 review did not take into account deep well hydraulic fracturing or potential environmental impact considerations, such as water requirements.

Fact: In 2012 a Record of Decision included a years’ worth of formal public comment and public meetings. The Supplemental Information Report SIR was in fact conducted specifically to address high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) and even stated,

“The BLM also presented a comparison of the scale of activities between conventional vertical and horizontal wells…I have determined that the Forest Service, along with partner agencies involved in oil and gas management, have the ability to provide for the appropriate protection of natural resources and the public if horizontal drilling using HVHF were to place on the WNF…I have determined that there is neither the need to supplement the EIS prepared for the Forest Plan revision, nor the need to correct or amend the Forest Plant at this time.” (emphasis added)

The Record of Decision goes on to include specifics regarding the proposed Foreseeable Development Scenario (RFDS) which essentially serves as a prognosis as to the land impacted from HVHF and environmental impacts of oil and gas development in the forest. The complete SIR can be summarized here, which clearly identifies issues like water management. The sum of which the Forest Supervisor concluded,

“Based off the information presented in the SIR, there is neither the need to restrict availability of the Federal oil and gas resources, nor the need to propose additional Forest Plan standard or guidelines.”

Claim: The activists’ letter to the BLM includes a host of oil and gas related issues that are not germane to the discussion over leasing in the forest, such as capping and orphan well.  The letter states “The capping and identification of orphan wells occurs at taxpayer expense.”

Fact: The claim that taxpayers foot the bill for capping and identification of orphan wells in Ohio is completely false. The Orphan Well Program was established in 1977, it has been recognized as one of the best in the nation, has plugged more than a thousand wells, and is entirely funded by the oil and gas industry.

The protests from these groups over issues like water quality and climate change were part of their 2012 efforts too, and they were unable to prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from leasing or shale development in the WNF.

The Buckeye Forest Council, Athens County Fracking Action Network, and the various anti-fracking groups in Ohio continue to lose traction as they’re claims are consistently debunked by federal agencies like the EPA. Even still, they continue to file erroneous protests to these agencies, with blatant disregard for policy, jurisprudence, and science. Hopefully the BLM recognizes this and will continue to perform their fiduciary responsibility to lease federal minerals and listen to the neighbors  and landowners of the Wayne National Forest when making this important decision.

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