Local citizens protest possibility of forested fracking
By Austen Verrilli CG News
A group of over 100 people filled the gazebo outside the Wayne National Forest Headquarters Wednesday afternoon in protest of possible horizontal hydraulic fracturing within parts of forested land.
Fourteen speakers, including Athens’ Mayor Paul Wiehl, spoke out against possible hydraulic fracturing in the forest during the gathering.
Two ideas were reiterated throughout the speeches.
First, Anne Carey, director of the Wayne National Forest, obtains the power to reject hydraulic fracturing leases and protesters urged her to be aware of this. Roxanne Groff, a former Athens city council member, reminded Carey of her authority over the forest. “Anne Carey, the Bureau of Land Management is not your boss!” she said.
Heather Cantino of the Athens County Fracking Action Network said that she was pleased that Wayne National Forest’s administration has the authority over whether or not the land is fracked. She said they have the power to protect the community from possible damage to the local watershed by preventing hydraulic fracturing.
Concern for water quality in the area was the second point reiterated throughout the protest. The water that runs through land parcels in the Wayne National Forest is the same Hocking River watershed that quenches the city of Athens, Nelsonville and other small towns in the area.Numerous speakers also said that the administration of the Wayne National Forest should perform a new environmental impact survey (EIS) to evaluate the environmental impacts of fracking in the area. Additionally, the previous EIS did not take the relatively new method of horizontal hydraulic fracturing into account.
Mayor Wiehl said that he was concerned about how oil and gas companies will treat the land and what the land could become. “It will be an industrial park on our land,” Wiehl said, who has no authority on whether or not the Wayne National Forest is fracked. “I’m not sure that’s what we want.”
Rachel Hayden, an Ohio University public relations student shared a similar sentiment. “This isn’t a national well field, it’s a national forest,” Hayden said. “Let’s keep it that way.”
Speakers also brought up the idea that tourism could be negatively affected. Mimi Morrison of Touch the Earth Adventures, a tourism company based in Southeast Ohio, and Athens Conservancy member Phil Cantino, both stated in their speeches that noise and air pollution could have an adverse effect on tourists.
Cantino said that the HockHocking Adena Bike Way, which borders a parcel of the Wayne National Forest, could become less desirable for riders if hydraulic fracking operations cause excessive noise and air pollution.
Chris Pyle, owner of Donkey Coffee, said that while that he is usually in the middle when it comes to arguments and issues concerning fracking, he believes this particular debate has two clear sides. “I’m usually the guy who can see other peoples’ points of view and bring reason to arguments,” Pyle said. “…I would say this is a battle between greed and common sense.”
At the end of the protest, Carey said that no one has approached her with requests to lease any Wayne National Forest land for horizontal hydraulic fracturing yet.
Carey also said that she currently does have an application for a vertical well and that there are already 1300 vertical wells dispersed throughout the Wayne National Forest.
“It’s industry that would determine it,” Carey said when asked what would cause the administration to grant leases for horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Carey said that she and her team at the Wayne National Forest will be researching horizontal hydraulic fracturing more and that they aim to have a verdict on whether or not to allow it at the end of June.
Hydraulic fracturing has been a local sensation since oil and gas companies started speculating land in South East Ohio. The process involves drilling over a mile into the ground and injecting millions of gallons of high-pressure water laced with chemicals and sand to break open shale formations and release oil and gas contained in the rock layers.
The actual availability of oil and gas in the Athens area has not been made clear to the public. A recent study by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources found that Athens is most likely not an oasis of oil and gas in Southeast Ohio. The study shows that more oil and gas are beneath Washington County, an area of which companies have already started fracking operations. Additionally, Wayne National Forest lands extend into Washington County.
Mayor Wiehl said that he expects fracking to eventually reach the Athens area though it may not be first on the list of counties to lease land and drill into the ground.
MC Christine Hughes kicks off the protest by explaining what has happened with fracking this year so far on a national and local level. Video by Austen Verrilli.
Jack Wright sings about the consequences of hydraulic fracking. Video by Austen Verrilli.
For more information on fracking in the Athens area visit: