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For Immediate Release, July 31, 2013

Contact:  Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council, (614) 949-6622
Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 318-1487

Plan to Frack Ohio's Blue Rock State Forest Contested

Drilling Plan Threatens Endangered Species, Local Communities

BLUE ROCK, Ohio— A coalition of citizens and conservation groups sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management today challenging the agency’s plan to sell oil and gas leases across most of Blue Rock State Forest. After news broke earlier this week about the secretive leasing plan, which had been quietly finalized this spring without public involvement, the groups requested that the BLM retract its current proposal and reopen the comment period. In addition to the lack of proper public notice, the groups cited the potential impact to federally protected endangered species and the fact that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had not been informed of the impending lease sale.

“Blue Rock State Forest is a natural treasure that belongs to all Ohioans,” said Nathan Johnson, staff attorney at Buckeye Forest Council, based in Columbus. “We are stunned the BLM would attempt to frack our forest without making sure citizens and state government had a chance to respond to the plan and make their concerns known.”

The federal government controls the subsurface mineral rights for the 4,578-acre forest in Ohio’s Muskingum County, but the state owns the surface. The split estate came about when the federal government bought logged-over land in the area in the 1930s, giving the land to the state of Ohio while retaining control of the subsurface rights.

The Bureau’s environmental assessment of the oil and gas lease plan was posted on its website in March, but no other public notification was made. The plan would allow private companies to purchase rights to drill under Blue Rock State Forest. Drilling practices would likely include the technique known as hydrofracturing, or “fracking,” which involves the high-pressure injection of chemically laced water deep into the ground.

Citizens and conservation groups have strongly opposed fracking on other public lands in the state, including the Wayne National Forest and Seneca Lake Park, the latter of which is managed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. Opponents to fracking have expressed grave concern about water pollution as well as the drawdown of aquifers and other water resources, caused by the large quantities of water the drilling process requires.

“We, and all our neighbors, were surprised to hear that the government has decided the forest is ripe for oil and gas exploitation,” said Jay Warmke, owner and operator of nearby Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living education center. “No word of this proposal had been uttered to any of the businesses that depend upon this scenic region for our livelihoods. Just the threat of fracking could have a terrible adverse impact on area businesses, including our own.”

Blue Rock State Forest likely harbors habitat for imperiled species, including the Indiana bat and four freshwater mussels (fanshell, sheepnose, snuffbox and rabbitsfoot). The federal Endangered Species Act requires that agencies consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when proposing projects that may harm listed species, but the Bureau has not done so, nor did it analyze the potential effects of the oil and gas leasing on the endangered species in its environmental assessment.

“The Indiana bat and these freshwater mussels are among the most vulnerable species on our continent, and it’s unthinkable to drill into a public forest without considering the impacts on them,” said Mollie Matteson, a Center for Biological Diversity conservation advocate specializing in protecting endangered bats. “Bats keep insect populations in check, and mussels are crucial in filtering water and keeping it clean. Before we start leasing their taxpayer-owned habitats to the highest bidder, the public needs to know what the risks are to these species and the services they provide to all of us.”

The Bureau announced today that it was temporarily halting the lease sale plan, but did not indicate whether it would reopen the public comment period or conduct a more in-depth analysis of the impacts of the drilling proposal on endangered species.

The groups signing on to today’s letter opposing the BLM’s lease sale plan are Buckeye Forest Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Blue Rock Station, Ohio Environmental Council, Heartwood and Ohio Sierra Club.

Buckeye Forest Council is a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting Ohio’s native forests and their inhabitants. The Council uses education, advocacy and organizing to address the need for forest preservation and low-impact recreation over logging and resource extraction.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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