Melanie Houston, December 2, 2016
The Wayne National Forest is in imminent danger in Ohio. In case you haven’t been following the news, for the last year the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed leasing some 40,000 acres of Ohio’s only national forest for oil and natural gas development, specifically through the use of hydraulic fracturing technology.
The first auction takes place in just 12 days, on December 13, 2016. On this day, the BLM plans to auction off 1,600 acres of federally owned land in the Marietta unit of the Wayne, marking the beginning of a 20-year long leasing and development plan.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Obama to stop fracking in the Wayne
If you know anything about the history of the Wayne, then you know that we have already, literally “been there, done that” with resource extraction. The coal, oil, and timber industries developed the forest that is now the Wayne almost to the point of non-existence during the Industrial Revolution. Before the federal government stepped in and acquired the then-barren Wayne in 1934, it was basically a wasteland of abandoned coal mines and tree stumps.
Now, less than a century later, it is home to a number of different plant and animal species, many endangered and threatened. The Wayne provides all Ohioans with amazing opportunities for outdoor exploration and play. And it provides an opportunity for southeastern Ohioans to supplement their family budget with game and fish. Despite all of this, we are back at square one, having to “Save the Wayne” for the second time.
Our public forests are at their best when they are protected and preserved for public use, and not open to private corporate interests. We know what happens when we allow oil and gas development into our forests: they get fragmented and we lose forest integrity and biodiversity. We also face smog-polluted air instead of crisp, clean country air.
We anticipate the same kind of endless traffic and noise pollution caused by construction that we have seen in other rural parts of the state where fracking development is occurring. And I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think most people are interested in camping near a construction zone, which is what these well pads resemble during the set-up, drilling, and fracking stages.
Also with fracking comes an increased risk for spills, well blowouts, and fires that put the safety and health of both humans and wildlife at risk.
In 2014, not far from one of the proposed leasing areas in the Wayne, there was a chemical fire at a fracking well that caused 25 nearby families to be evacuated from their homes and killed more than 70,000 fish over a 5-mile stretch of stream. Fracking spills and fires may not happen very often, but when they do, the effects can be devastating. Do we really want to take those kinds of risks in our public lands?
Ohioans should not have to choose between our only national forest and meeting our state’s energy needs. While there may be natural gas beneath the Wayne, Ohio also has an abundance of untapped clean energy opportunity. We can choose a different energy future for Ohio, one that is clean, sustainable, and that ensures the Wayne will be around for generations to come.