Speak up: Landowners near Wayne National Forest urged to talk

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SARAHSVILLE, Ohio — Landowners near the Wayne National Forest may get the chance to lease their land for oil and gas exploration. The bad part is that it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Landowners bordering or near the Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio have been battling for the right to lease their land and in return develop their mineral rights.

Drilling units

When a landowner whose property borders the Wayne National Forest wants to lease his land for mineral rights, the Bureau of Land Management, which manages energy development for the federal forest, has to give permission for the forest to be developed as well.

This is partly because the private properties may be separated by the Wayne National Forest, and for a drilling unit to be designed, the land between them in the forest would also have to be leased, or the minerals developed.

In April, the Bureau of Land Management found that leasing could move forward after it was determined that energy development in the Wayne National Forest would have “no significant impact” on the environment.

The fight

The group, Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration, has been fighting for landowners near the forest to have the ability to develop their mineral rights.

“The BLM was absolutely correct to determine that there will be no environmental impact from leasing in the Wayne and we applaud their decision,” said Becky Clutter, founder of the Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration movement.

But, Clutter added, if the agency takes no further action, “landowners’ private property rights would continue to be squandered.”

“The BLM is mandated, by law, to make these minerals available for development, and they need to do so immediately with no further delays,” Clutter said.

“The BLM is mandated by law, to make these minerals available for development, and they need to do so immediately with no further delays,” Clutter said.

The landowners’ group feels the BLM is attempting to purchase more land, further delaying the right to lease.

LEASE is not alone in asking landowners to do their part.

NARO speaking out

The Appalachia chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO), which represents royalty owners in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina, is calling on landowners in Appalachia to engage in the public comment period underway in support of leasing in the Wayne National Forest.

NARO Appalachia hopes to build support leasing in the Wayne National Forest, but would like to see changes in the draft Environmental Assessment.

NARO Appalachia has concerns regarding the ongoing delays with leasing of federal minerals and the acknowledgment by the agency that as much as 10,000 acres of private minerals may revert back to the government.

Not just the BLM

The Bureau of Land Management, however, has a different take on the matter.

Davida Carnahan, public affairs specialist for the BLM, said the issue of leasing the forest isn’t just a BLM decision. She said the BLM handles the mineral rights in the forest, but the U.S. Forest Service handles the surface rights, and that agency also has to give its permission to move forward.

“We only have permission from the U.S. Forest Service for 42 acres,” said Carnahan.

Carnahan said the BLM cannot comment on the statements made by NARO or LEASE, but did say that the process is not one that can be done quickly.

She said the BLM’s draft environmental assessment did find that energy development in the Wayne National Forest would have “no significant impact” on the environment. The draft is open to public review and comment until May 29.

Auction to lease

The BLM is planning an auction in December for the leasing rights to 42 acres in Morgan and Washington counties.

Carnahan said the BLM holds a lease sale once every quarter. At the auction, the leasing companies can outbid each other for the mineral rights.

No permission

She said the BLM is aware of the expressions of interest to lease, but until permission is granted, the auctions can’t be held for the remaining acreage.

Carnahan explained the BLM has to follow the National Environmental Policy Act ,which requires an analysis by each of the organizations, such as the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, to be completed before the process can move forward.

“We have to study the Wayne National Forest so we have a foundation for the future,” said Carnahan.

Public comments

Meanwhile, the BLM, NARO and LEASE are on the same page about one thing.

Each organization is encouraging landowners to speak out about the leasing in the Wayne National Forest.

Landowners can submit public comment to the BLM via U.S. mail or email immediately, as comments are due by May 29.

Public comment on Wayne National Forest

  • The Bureau of Land Management recently completed a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of potential oil and gas leasing in the Wayne National Forest. The document analyzes the environmental impacts of leasing oil and gas resources on an estimated 40,000 subsurface acres. Of the 40,000 acres being studied, about 18,000 acres are being considered for lease at this time.
  • The public can comment on the Environmental Assessment until May 29.
  • The Environmental Assessment and other associated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents are available online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/nepa/nepa_register.do. Search under NEPA project number: DOI-BLM-EasternStates-0030-2016-0002-EA.
  • E-mail: blm_es_comments@blm.gov
  • Fax number: 414-297-4409, Attn: Kurt Wadzinski
  • Mail: BLM Northeastern States District Attn: Kurt Wadzinski Planning and Environmental Coordinator, 626 E. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 200, Milwaukee, WI 53202-4617

Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, be aware that your entire comment including your personal identifying information may be made publicly available at any time.

For information regarding BLM Eastern States oil and gas lease sales, visit www.blm.gov/es/st/en/prog/minerals.html.

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