The support has been overwhelming and bipartisan ahead of the public comment period coming to a close. U.S. Senator Rob Portman, Congressman Bill Johnson, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, state representatives, state senators, county commissioners, economic development agencies, chambers, and labor unions submitted a flurry of letters to the Bureau of Land management (BLM) explain that drilling in the WNF will brings jobs and economic prosperity to the state.
This news comes just days after the BLM made an announcement that it plans to move forward with oil and gas leasing on public lands. That must have been a blow to anti-fracking activists led by the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign and MoveOn.org’s national petition, “Just say NO to fracking” on public lands. Despite the efforts of these groups, authentic local Ohio voices are prevailing and making it abundantly clear that there is strong support for drilling in the Wayne.
Labor groups, including the International Union of Operating Engineers’ Local 18 attended all three public meetings held on WNF leasing and made the following comments:
“The oil and natural gas industry has played an important role in the economic well-being of Ohio, and the state’s production is a strong contributor toward American energy security. … We are asking that the Bureau of Land Management approve leasing and expedite the process, as the U.S. Forest Service has already conducted a thorough NEPA review in 2012.”
Bipartisan Monroe County Commissioners Tim Price (D) Carl Davis (D) Mick Schumacher (R) stated:
“We are writing on behalf of our constituent and what has been a public outcry from landowners in Monroe County regarding delays with development of private mineral leases located under and adjacent to the Wayne National Forest. The real issue is property rights. In addition, since 2008, mineral development has generated more than $460,000 for local government. In 2015, Monroe County received $33,286.00 in Payment in Liu of Taxes (PILT), of which there was no monies received from federal minerals. We also find this matter concerning from a perspective of “The Secure Rural School and Community Self Determination Act of 2000” (SRS), which is another source of funding from the Wayne National Forest that provide payments to fund important local services “
United States Senator Rob Portman (OH) said:
“The exploration of Eastern Ohio’s Utica and Marcellus Shale has placed Southeast Ohio at the forefront of domestic energy production. Harnessing the resources in the Wayne National Forest will help increase our nation’s energy security, create jobs, and provide economic development of much-needed areas.”
Representative Bill Johnson (OH-6) also weighed in stating:
“The federal government is hindering shale development throughout significant parts of Southeastern Ohio. Some residents, particularly in Monroe and Washington Counties, have elected to lease their private mineral rights for the purpose of oil and natural gas development. But many are finding themselves in a situation where their private leases are at risk of not being developed because their private mineral leases are adjacent to, or under the surface of, the Wayne National Forest. I urge the BLM to take action on the pending leases in the Wayne National Forest.”
Out of State Anti-Fossil Fuel Activists Posing As “Local” Concerned Citizens
While officials and prominent labor and business groups who actually live in Ohio overwhelmingly support development in the WNF, the voice of opposition has primarily been from out-of-state anti-fossil groups who have parachuted into Ohio to pose as “local” concerned citizens.
For example, here are a few highlights of MoveOn.org’s petitions to stop development in the WNF from “local” concerned citizens. But notice how many “local” voices are coming from out of state.
Whether it’s coming from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), 350.org, or MoveOn.org or the Keep it in the Ground campaign, these out-of-state groups are certainly not representative of local citizens.
By contrast, the statewide groups, elected officials and landowners who actually live and work in Ohio have made it abundantly clear that they support drilling. Some of the supportive comments submitted to the BLM can be found here.
Background on Leasing Minerals under the Wayne National Forest
In Ohio, anti-fracking groups have pushed for repeated delays over leasing in the Wayne National Forest, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. These delays have gone on for years.
In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a review which included an assessment hydraulic fracturing in the WNF and updating the forest plan as part of a Supplemental Information Review (SIR) process. The agency determined that hydraulic fracturing and leasing of minerals for oil and gas development was entirely permissible. Despite this relatively recent review, the BLM elected to conduct yet another review only three years later in the form of an Environmental Assessment (EA). This EA was designed to determine if the 2012 U.S. Forest Service review was indeed adequate to move forward with leasing of federal minerals.
As part of this process, the BLM hosted three public meetings to gain valuable input from the community. The content and tone of these meetings varied significantly. The first meeting in Marietta was productive and informative, as it was attended by a local audience. The second meeting in Athens was a circus, as activist groups, coordinated by the Keep It in the Ground campaign, were so rowdy and disrespectful to federal employees that the meeting had to be called off early. The third meeting in Ironton was by and large not attended well and was a mixed audience of both supporters and opponents, but like Marietta, was a productive and civil.
Following the meetings in November, the public was granted over two months to weigh in with formal public comment, a timeframe that the BLM extended to ensure local voices were heard. It closed just last week. The BLM is slated to make a decision on the Environmental Assessment sometime in March.
Whether you consider the so-called “Community Bill of Rights” that was defeated five consecutive times in Youngstown, the statewide groups that have spoken out against the Pennsylvania Community Environmental Legal Defense (CELDF) and their continued attacks on Ohio municipal governments, or landowners that are sick and tired of fringe out-of-state activist parachuting into Ohio, one thing is clear: when it comes to oil and gas development, there is broad support from the Buckeye State.