Grassroots Organizations Denounce Plans to Frack Ohio’s National Forest

Athens, OH Nov. 13, 2015 –– Opponents of a federal government proposal to lease some 31,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest for fracking today challenged the proposal’s legitimacy in a letter demanding a full-scale environmental report be compiled and put before the public before any decision to take bids from drilling firms. Activists from the Buckeye Forest Council, Athens County Fracking Action Network, Heartwood, Freshwater Accountability Project, Appalachian Ohio Group of the Sierra Club, and Center for Health, Environment, and Justice called previous studies by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service “poorly conceived” and “shallow” and cited many harms from fracking that have never been admitted by the agencies.

The groups said a 2012 internal review by the BLM which authorized leasing to begin, called a Supplemental Information Report, directly violated federal environmental law because it was written in secret, excluded any public participation, and broke a written promise from 2006 that environmental effects would be studied before leasing would occur.

The BLM and FS are co-sponsoring a series of public meetings in Marietta, Athens and Ironton this week to justify a decision to promote high-volume horizontal fracking for oil and gas in the national forest. A Forest Service spokesperson characterized the meetings as “sort of scoping” – something the activists seized upon as indicative that the decision to frack is already made.  The unconsidered health and environmental threats, they say, include huge clearcuts to build access roads and drilling pads, untended liquid drilling waste holding ponds that will poison wildlife, widespread air pollution from the fracking chemicals, methane leakage, and an average 1,800 truckloads hauling equipment and chemicals to, or taking wastes from, each well. They also criticized the agencies for not considering the enormous waste stream produced by fracking, replete with health-compromising radioactivity in the form of Radium-226 and Thorium.

“It took 350 million years for radium and its daughter elements to become isolated from the surface of the Earth so that our carbon-based life forms could even develop,” said Terry Lodge, an attorney working with the opponents. “The worst threat oil and gas workers and the public have never heard of from fracking is that nearly 100% of the wastes are radioactive, that radium is very water-soluble, is misidentified by the body as calcium and readily incorporated into bone tissue, and that it kills. Madame Curie and her staff were wiped out by Radium-226. If this leasing goes through, thousands of additional tons per year will be dumped in Ohio’s sanitary landfills, which are not prepared to handle these radioactive waste.”

The 2012 “reconsideration” was the result of widespread community protest in 2011 that resulted in cancellation of a December 2011 lease sale of Wayne subsurface rights. The 2011 protest was initiated by a Buckeye Forest Council community alert and the organization’s formal comments to the BLM, which guided further comments by dozens of citizens and local officials and water protection entities. OU’s President Roderick McDavis, Mayor Paul Wiehl, Athens City Council, Burr Oak Water District, and Athens Conservancy were among those submitting formal protests to the BLM. Documents from this effort are available at acfan.org/wayne-supporting-docs/.

“What don’t these agencies understand about the word NO?” asked Roxanne Groff, Bern Township trustee, former Athens County commissioner and a leader in the 2012 community efforts. “Our community has been loud and clear: we don’t want fracking in our public forest. These agencies must comply with NEPA and do the research, which will make it abundantly clear that fracking will have significant negative impacts on our community’s air, water, and local economies.”

Joe Hazelbaker, newly appointed BFC interim executive director and a co-signatory of the letter to the Bureau of Land Management and  US Forest Service , summed up the organization’s position, stating, “The Forest Service and BLM are treating the leasing of 31,000 acres as a cursory process with a foregone conclusion while casting the public as merely their audience. The law requires otherwise and we will work together to do whatever we can to prevent these agencies from spoiling the Wayne.”