Bids on Wayne Oil & Gas leases to start at $2 an acre

Bids on Wayne oil & gas leases to start at $2 an acre

reposted from The Athens News :$2-an-acre.html

Article By Jim Phillips

Bids for oil-and-gas leases on more than 3,000 acres of Wayne National Forest land will start at $2 an acre, according to an official of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The “public notice” of the pending auction – set for Dec. 7 – consisted only of posting an announcement in the “public room” of the BLM’s website, according to Larry R. Denny, acting deputy state director of resources for the agency. The BLM also provided the U.S. Surface Management Agency a copy of the auction notice, Denny said.

Denny declined to answer questions by phone about the auction, which has triggered serious opposition among local environmental groups, as well as Athens city and county government officials. He did, however, answer written questions from The Athens NEWS via e-mail.

As reported by The NEWS on Monday, a BLM notice dated Sept. 7 announced that the agency is offering 45 parcels of national forest land in three states including Ohio for oil and gas leasing. This includes 3,302 acres in the Wayne National Forest, most of which – about 2,623 acres – is in northern Athens County.

The lease sales, according to Denny’s emailed comments, “are a statutory requirement mandated by Congress. The BLM is required to do four lease sales a year.”

Denny confirmed that the deadline for a letter protesting the auction is this Friday – 30 days from the date of the lease posting. Area environmental groups including the Buckeye Forest Council have complained that they learned about the planned lease auction only late last week, giving them only about a week to lodge a protest.

Both the city of Athens and Athens County have expressed formal opposition to the auction.

In a letter to the BLM dated Tuesday, the Athens County Commissioners asked the agency to take the three Athens County parcels in the Wayne, as well as one in Perry County, off the auction block.

“We are concerned that the stipulations in your lease do not protect the Hocking River and aquifer which several counties depend on for their water supply,” the letter states. “The city of Nelsonville has a wellhead for their drinking water close to one of the proposed tracts as well. Ninety-five percent of the public drinking water in our area is provided from this aquifer. The potential adverse impacts of fracking on these public lands far outweigh any financial benefit BLM would receive from this sale.”

(“Fracking” refers to the horizontal fracturing method of drilling for oil and gas, in which operators drill vertically down into a shale bed, then curve the piping horizontally into the targeted shale bed. At that point, they inject pressurized liquid into the shale layer, breaking up the rock and forcing the waste-water, oil and/or gas to the surface.)

In addition, the commissioners’ letter stated, one of the parcels in the Wayne proposed for lease auction borders the Hockhocking-Adena Bikeway. “This is one of the most scenic portions of the bikeway,” the letter says. “Damage to the forest in this area from a fracking accident (and such accidents are not uncommon) could have a serious negative impact on the experience of using the bikeway and consequently its ability to attract visitors to the county.”

Athens City Council has also drafted a letter to the BLM, opposing the planned auction.

“Athens City, Ohio is a statutory city that relies upon a riparian aquifer as the sole source for its municipal water system,” the letter says. “That aquifer is downstream from the parcels. We are concerned that the leasing, drilling and operation of the potential wells in the Utica shale will have a deleterious effect on our sole source municipal water supply. It must be noted that we have a meager water supply in general in unglaciated Ohio, and our water source is inextricably bound to the health of the Hocking River. We are also concerned that the leasing and drilling of these parcels could negatively impact human health, wildlife, habitat and recreational enjoyment… Given the experiences of our adjacent state, Pennsylvania, in the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale, we request that the Forest Service’s determination be reconsidered for the parcels upstream from our municipal water supply… We request the withdrawal of the lease sale until the proper environmental analysis is conducted and our water supply is protected.”

Gary Willison, acting forest supervisor for the Wayne, said this week that his agency has no control over underground minerals beneath the forest, which are handled by the BLM.

“We don’t lease (the land for drilling),” Willison explained. “The BLM leases it. The Forest Service only manages the surface.”

Once a lease is signed, however, Willison said, the Forest Service will review a drilling plan for potential negative impacts.

“When the lease has been sold, the operator has to come to the Forest Service with a drilling plan, that has to be very site-specific,” he said. The agency will then “try to figure out what the impacts to the surface are going to be,” he added. These surface impacts would include impacts to waterways such as the Hocking River, but not the underground aquifer, he said.

Willison said the Forest Service has the authority to tell a drilling company that its plan is not appropriate for a given site, or what is more likely, require it to make changes in the plan. The official stopped short of saying the Forest Service can veto a drilling plan.

“Veto – I hate to use that word,” he said.

The oil and gas industry, as well as some academic geologists, insist that fracking, if properly regulated, does not threaten water resources.

In an email interview on Wednesday, professor Robert Chase, who chairs the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology at Marietta College, insisted that oil and gas drilling operations protect water resources.

“As per hydraulic fracturing, the way companies are completing these deep wells all but ensures that there are at least five layers of protection through the fresh water aquifers in the area,” Chase said. “All water and chemicals used in the fracturing treatment would have to somehow penetrate six layers of steel and cement to contaminate the aquifer.”

As for threats closer to the surface, Chase said that Ohio law prohibits “spent frac water” from being pumped into creeks, lakes, sewage treatment plants, etc. “It must be flowed back into lined pits approved by the ODNR and the Ohio EPA or into trailers on location. It must then be hauled off location and properly disposed of in a manner that satisfies ODNR and EPA regulations.”

Critics point water resources in other states that have been polluted and in some cases ruined by nearly fracking operations.

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