Feds Fail to Address Climate Change Impact, Danger to Groundwater, Wildlife Habitat
ATHENS, Ohio—(ENEWSPF)–August 11, 2016. The U.S. Forest Service should reject a new oil and gas leasing plan in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest due to its failure to address serious concerns over fracking and climate change, conservation groups said today in a letter to the Service.
The plan to allow dangerous hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on 40,000 acres of the state’s only national forest would degrade streams and groundwater, fragment wildlife habitat and worsen climate change — issues inadequately addressed in the environmental analysis for the proposal — according to the letter from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Ohio Environmental Council and the Sierra Club.
The groups also criticized the agency’s failure to quantify the plan’s greenhouse gas emissions, contrary to the Council on Environmental Quality’s new guidance issued to federal agencies last week. Under the guidance, the agency should disclose the full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the proposed leasing in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, including emissions from burning oil and gas extracted from the Wayne, the letter asserts.
“Any proposal for new oil and gas leases on public land should include an analysis of its contribution to the climate change crisis,” said Nathan Johnson, an attorney with Ohio Environmental Council. “Legally and morally, any decision on federal fossil fuel must examine the impact that burning that fuel will have on all of us. Indeed, if we are to prevent the worst effects of climate change, the science tells us that all new federal fossil fuel leasing should be off limits.”
The groups also highlighted the Forest Service’s failure to address groundwater and surface-water contamination risks from wastewater disposal and other fracking operations. While the agency claims that measures in its land-use plan, such as a prohibition on underground wastewater disposal, would protect water resources, these restrictions do not apply to neighboring private lands scattered throughout the forest. Horizontal wells required for fracking can reach oil and gas deposits two miles away and so need not be sited on federal land. Over three-quarters of the forest’s Marietta Unit, where the leasing is proposed, is private land.
“The government’s plan is remarkably shortsighted in its failure to consider the full extent of fracking and wastewater disposal that could occur throughout the forest,” said Wendy Park, an attorney with the Center. “Water quality and wildlife will suffer regardless of where these activities occur.”
The endangered Indiana bat relies on the Wayne and could be drawn to wastewater ponds that would serve as deathtraps for bats, said the groups, noting a potential Endangered Species Act violation. Fragmentation of habitat for the bat and other species is another concern, and the environmental analysis underestimates the total amount of forest that would be cleared for pipelines and well pads, the letter noted.
In May the Bureau of Land Management — the agency in charge of the proposed auction — received public comment on the environmental analysis for the proposed leasing. The Forest Service must consent to leasing parcels nominated by oil and gas operators before the auction can go forward.
The Bureau’s website suggests an auction is planned for December, but last week, Forest Supervisor Anthony Scardina announced in an email that he would be leaving the Wayne on Aug. 15 for a temporary four-month post in Montana. Athens District Ranger Jason Reed will serve as acting supervisor in the interim. It is unclear how the supervisor’s departure will affect the Forest Service’s review of the controversial leasing proposal.
The groups requested a meeting with the Forest Service. “Public lands are for the people, not for the benefit of Big Oil and Gas,” said Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. Drilling for oil and gas means more fracking, and fracking means poisoning our air and water, and threatening the health of our communities and our environment. At a time when clean energy like solar and wind is proving to be safest, healthiest, and most cost-effective way to power our country, it’s high time we recognized that we need to leave dirty fuels like coal, oil, and gas in the ground.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.