A federal judge blocked new oil and gas and fracking leases in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, a popular destination for outdoor recreation and the only National Forest located in the vast state.
The ruling chided the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for failing to consider threats to public health, endangered species and watersheds before opening more than 40,000 acres of forest to fracking last year.
Pending the completion of new environmental reviews, the March 9 order blocks new leases, prohibits new drilling and surface alteration permits on existing leases, and prohibits the extraction of water from the Little Muskingum River for already approved drilling.
“This is great news for the future of Ohio’s only national forest,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior activist for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are grateful that the judge recognized the damage that hydraulic fracturing could cause to this spectacular forest. The order will protect our climate, endangered wildlife and drinking water for millions of people. “
US District Judge Michael Watson said that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management had “shown a disregard for the different types of impacts caused by fracking in the forest. The agencies made decisions based on a faulty basis. “
“This is a victory for public health (and) outdoor recreation,” said Nathan Johnson, director of public lands for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The Wayne is a public forest that we all own. Keeping the air and water clean, as well as their views intact, is a victory that we can all celebrate. “
In May 2017, conservation groups sued the agencies over plans to allow fracking in Wayne, saying federal officials had relied on an outdated plan and ignored significant environmental threats before approving fracking.
BLM’s lease plan would industrialize Ohio’s only national forest by building roads, well pads and gas pipelines, according to demand. This would destroy Indiana bat habitat, contaminate watersheds and water supplies that support millions of people, and endanger other federally protected species in the area.
Wayne National Forest is a patchwork of public lands that covers more than a quarter of a million acres of Appalachian Hills in southeastern Ohio, and much of the property is former coal mining land, where it has already been restored to restore water quality and mitigate toxic minerals. It seeped into lakes and rivers from the mines.
Currently, privately owned oil and natural gas rights underlie about 59% of forest land, totaling 144,103 acres. The USDA Forest Service is the managing agency when it comes to mineral leases and, as of November 2018, there were 1,272 active vertical wells. at Wayne Forest properties– Involving both federal and private mining operations.
The ruling, along with a Biden administration moratorium on the leasing of new oil and gas on federal public lands, is a major victory for conservation groups who have waged a three-year legal battle to protect the 40,000 acres in question.
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