New drilling wells may dot the landscape of Monroe County following a $5.2 million bid in March for the rights to explore and drill for oil and gas on 1,180 acres of land in the Wayne National Forest.
The Wayne National Forest, which covers over a quarter million acres of Appalachia, has seen such bids before; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management previously leased more than 1,600 acres of the forest to private oil and gas companies in December 2016.
The move comes amidst a boom for fracking across the U.S., which now accounts for about half of the current domestic crude oil production.
Although the recent bids have been for access to subterranean mineral rights on federally-owned land, almost 60 percent of the subterranean mineral rights below the forest are privately owned. Nearly 65 percent of active wells are found on these areas.
Wayne National Forest Supervisor Tony Scardina stressed the guidelines companies must follow when pursuing oil and natural gas leases.
“All requirements are based on the best available science, extensive knowledge and experience of our staff and multiple layers of environmental study,” Scardina said. “At every stage of the oil and gas-leasing process, we apply these requirements, and once drilling is approved, we monitor ongoing operations to ensure requirements are properly implemented.”
In 2015, more than 1,200 active vertical wells operated in Wayne National Forest. Currently, 780 of them are private. Proponents such as Shawn Bennett, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, believe this will be a boon for economic development.
“The great thing about this is that property owners who leased their mineral rights finally be able to receive bonus and royalty payments for their lands,” Bennett said in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The owners of subterranean mineral rights do not necessarily have to live in the area, however, because mineral rights are often bought and sold separately from surface land.
The 2006 Forest Plan mandated all minerals in federally-owned subterranean portions of the park be made available for leasing. The Forest Service continues to oversee initial land surveys to determine whether it is suitable for lease, as well as ensuring that all leases comply with laws and regulations.
The recent explosion of fracking in the U.S. has been a controversial phenomenon. Detractors have claimed the environmental cost of such drilling is unsustainable and harmful, whereas proponents posit that fracking has done more than anything else to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to economic growth.
The debate over fossil fuels remains unsettled locally, too. The Sierra Student Commission, a local student activist group, recently put up a flag on Ohio University’s campus demanding a further divestment in the fossil fuel industry. Ohio is currently ranked second in solar module manufacturing, and has implemented significant renewable energy mandates in the past.
In an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch, Scardina expressed confidence for the forest’s future.
“I am confident in our ability to manage multiple uses in the national forest, including oil and gas development, and can ensure that the Wayne National Forest will continue to provide for a broad range of uses for current and future generations.” Scardina said.