A federal agency has plans to open most of Blue Rock State Forest in
Muskingum County to fracking.
The proposal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management website, would open 4,525 acres of mineral rights beneath the 4,578-acre state forest and two townships for bids from oil and gas companies during a Dec. 12 public sale. The sale has environmental-advocacy groups questioning why neither federal nor state officials took any additional steps to inform the public.
A page on the bureau's website lists parcels for oil and gas lease sales, but it doesn't specifically name the Blue Rock State Forest. It is described as "state-owned surface/federally owned minerals, lands in Ohio." A subsequent link leads to documents that name Blue Rock.
"It was posted in March with a public comment period of 30 days," Buckeye Forest Council attorney Nathan Johnson said yesterday. "Unfortunately, it seems nobody in the state of Ohio got the message."
In a statement, Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials said the decision to auction the mineral rights under Blue Rock was made without their input.
"The Bureau of Land Management has not shared their environmental assessment with us, nor did they notify us of their public comment period," spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle wrote. "(Natural Resources) owns a minority share in the mineral rights of the forest, but the decision to lease the mineral rights rests solely with the Bureau of Land Management."
But Robert Gillcash, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the agency followed rules for public notification and that it put the land up for auction only after ODNR officials gave their consent."In this instance, the Department of Natural Resources gave consent to nominate the parcels in Blue Rock," Gillcash said. "The (Bureau of Land Management) followed our standard procedures."
He said the public-review period closed April 25 without comment.
Proposals for fracking in government forests and parks have drawn public protests.
The fracking process pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals underground to shatter shale and free trapped oil and gas.
Environmental groups say it's a pollution threat; industry officials insist it's safe. Oil and gas companies also have offered bonuses of $2,000 to $5,000 an acre to those who own the mineral rights to sign leases.
A 2011 state law gave a five-member commission the authority to put state-owned mineral rights up for bid to interested oil and gas companies. That panel has yet to be appointed.
A Bureau of Land Management proposal to open 3,300 acres of mineral rights under the Wayne National Forest drew public protests in 2011. U.S. Forest Service officials announced that fracking in August and said at the time that drilling could start by 2016.
The area that became Blue Rock State Forest was bought by the U.S. Resettlement Administration in the 1930s after it was extensively logged and deemed unsuitable for farming.
The administration transferred surface ownership to Ohio but kept control of the mineral rights.
The Buckeye Forest Council also questioned an unrelated proposal involving an 8,000-acre region of the Shawnee State Forest.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued a proposal to open a road in the Shawnee Backcountry Area to allow visitors vehicle access.
Johnson said his group is worried that the proposal would lift other protections, including logging limits.
(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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