Victory for Wayne National Forest: Federal Court Judge blocks new leases, drilling

A ten-year protest of the Wayne National Forest’s decision to lease oil and gas rights for fracking has resulted in a victory for Ohio’s only National Forest. In May 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity,, sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) over the inadequate Environmental Assessment that led to the BLM and USFS decision that Wayne National Forest lands could be auctioned for fracking.  U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson issued his final order on March 8th, 2021, blocking any new leases on the Wayne and prohibiting new drilling permits, surface disturbance on existing leases, and water withdrawals from the Little Muskingum River for already approved drilling.

In his preliminary decision (March 2020), the judge had rebuked the BLM and USFS for failing to consider threats to public health, endangered species, and watersheds before opening more than 40,000 acres of the forest to fracking. Noting that the agencies had “demonstrated a disregard for the different types of impacts caused by fracking in the Forest,” U.S. District Judge Michael Watson has now directed them to conduct new environmental reviews. The judge’s strongly worded decisions concluded that the BLM and NFS did not take “the hard look” at impacts of fracking as required by law and that their decision to lease was based on a “faulty foundation.”

“That faulty foundation is the 2006 Forest Plan, which still governs Wayne decisions,” stated Roxanne Groff, chair of the Citizens’ Working Group on Ecological Forest Management for the Wayne’s recently aborted process to develop a new Plan. Groff stated, “This out-of-date Plan has now been declared to be inadequate by a federal court.”

Heather Cantino, Working Group member and steering committee chair of Athens County’s Future Action Network (ACFAN), which formed as Athens County Fracking Action Network to fight Wayne plans to lease land for fracking in 2011, noted, “We will continue to demand a Wayne Plan that addresses climate and biodiversity threats from Wayne actions. While we very much celebrate this extremely important win, we are dismayed by the Wayne’s other destructive management practices, which we will continue to expose. Like their analysis for fracking, their practices of extensive logging and burning are based on bad science and flimsy foundations and seriously threaten our climate and the health of our forests,” Cantino concluded.

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