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Can Ohio’s national park be “leased” for drilling?

By Sarah Sidlow

Quick quiz: name the only national forest in Ohio.

That’s right—it’s Wayne National Forest (WNF), and portions of it are found in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Lawrence, Perry, Scioto, Vinton, and Washington counties. Why is this relevant, you may be asking?

Because if it’s got soil, it must have oil.

WNF contains both public and private land. And although a reported 60 percent of the mineral rights below WNF are privately owned, the federal Bureau of Land Management controls drilling on federally protected lands like Wayne National Forest.

Now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is saying, “Drill, baby, drill.” It plans to lease up to 40,000 acres of the Athens Ranger District in the forest’s Marietta Unit for oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing —“Frack, baby, frack.”

How does this whole leasing thing work? Ask the landlord.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the managing agency over the development of minerals under National Forest land, has a pact (called a Memorandum of Understanding) with the BLM requiring the two agencies to coordinate in the leasing and management of minerals under national forest land. Federal laws like the Mineral Leasing Act (1920) and The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 allow for mineral development on National Forest System lands. Leases can be privately held or can be owned by the federal government.

For those who already own mineral rights below WNF—and who have been blocked from drilling for a decade—it’s about time. A group of Ohio landowners called LEASE (Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration) praised the BLM for its favorable environmental assessment that proposed a “finding of no significant impact” of drilling in the area. For them, this small step indicates a groan of progress for a safe and effective fuel-gathering method with a reputation problem.

Supporters claim the Energy Policy Act of 2005 emphasizes that domestic energy development from renewable and nonrenewable sources is a national priority—and they argue that oil, gas, and coal have been produced in the Appalachian Basin (which includes WNF) for over a century.

Plus, the feds contribute royalties from mineral production on federal leases to counties within the WNF boundary. In 2011, almost $57,569 was distributed to 12 southeastern Ohio counties.

All of this garnered a single response from environmental groups and hylophiles, “Frack you.”

Opponents including The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council, and Friends of the Earth are challenging the leasing plans, saying the BLM failed to take into account the impacts fracking would have on air quality, water quality, wildlife, and climate change. The WNF is home to rare and endangered species including bobcats, Indiana bats, timber rattlesnakes, and cerulean warblers (that’s not a Pokemon – we checked), which depend on large uninterrupted swaths of forest.

“The science is clear,” says Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change requires keeping untapped fossil fuels in the ground. Opening new areas to development—let alone our public lands—directly conflicts with that science and delays a transition to clean, renewable energy.” Some fracking opponents are even more incensed over the practice being proposed and executed in a national forest, of all places, which they claim should promote biological purity and preservation over all else.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at

Roosevelt’s elephant over the mantel

By Ben Tomkins

Everybody knows the quotes by Theodore Roosevelt praising the beauty of the outdoors and its wonderful wildlife. He set aside huge tracts of land and waxed poetic about the wonders of nature, and the word “conservation” is practically synonymous with his name.

It’s all bullshit, and it’s why we have so much public land being leased out to mineral and fossil fuel developers.

Theodore Roosevelt—a man whose nickname should have been “Veldt” rather than “Teddy” because of the number of elephants he shot—has an entirely different concept of what conservation meant than how we think of it today. His whole idea of conservation was that land should be set aside so that young tykes and their parents could go hunt, fish, and camp for all eternity, breathing the untainted air of the outdoors and drinking from its crystal lakes, while at the same time ignoring the parts of it that were being systematically excised for the purpose of making as much money as possible from the valuable deposits therein.

Back then, Roosevelt had two options before him when it came to dealing with land conservation. The first was John Muir’s approach that nature is a beauty that should be preserved in the same way one preserves a painting. Muir also started the Sierra Club. Unfortunately, Roosevelt subscribed to the philosophy of Gifford Pinchot, who found it positively un-American to own land without making a lot of money from of it. The following quote is a fantastic example of his priorities:

“…to make the forest produce the largest amount of whatever crop or service will be most useful and keep on producing it for generation after generation of men and trees.”

This was totally in line with the General Mining Act of 1872, which Ulysses S. Grant signed so people could apply Sherman’s Scorched Earth tactic of taking whatever was useful from the land and leaving a swath of destruction visible from space, and applying it to many other lands taken into the custody of the United States government. And to be completely fair to Pinchot, although his quote appears to indicate he wanted generations upon generations of trees, he didn’t say which ones or where. He certainly didn’t think it included the trees burned to cinders when the Great Fire of 1910, started by commercial activities and during which the Northwest lost a forested area the size of Connecticut.

I think my favorite part is that Pinchot—a powerful politician—gave William Greeley—the head forester of the region—a large promotion in the Forestry Service because he shifted the blame for causing the fire to…

…Satan. In many ways Greeley was entirely correct, but alas, for the wrong reasons.

From then until the 21st century almost all legislation and executive orders have focused on the federal government and private companies vying for financial control of valuable natural resources; and the Bureau of Land Management has spent the majority of its time doling out permits to energy and mining companies for the purposes of reaping financial rewards.

The problem that we run into today is that we have an entirely different energy policy than we had at the beginning of the 20th century. (Sorry if that sounds patronizing, but I don’t really know any other way to say it.)

Modern energy policy has shifted away from using molten dinosaurs for powering the entire continent to alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind. In fact, the legislation from Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 did not occur in the middle of the Oil Embargo by coincidence, and ever since the United States has been tinkering around with ways to either militarily control the oil in the Middle East or—these days—get away from it entirely. Granted, this has involved greater domestic oil production and the development of techniques like fracking to suck as much out of currently tapped fossil fuel areas, but the idea is not to maintain this forever.

Conservation as we know it today is directly opposed to companies that try to extract short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability—a concept which permeates the general philosophical underpinnings of our governance philosophy going all the way back to the Federalist Papers and James Madison (In that case referring to interstate commerce).

It is time for us to seriously reconsider what it means to put land in the public trust. Even though Roosevelt himself was motivated to begin setting land aside for the public in part because he realized that natural resources don’t last forever.  There was one huge difference between the dawn of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st century: there were a hell of a lot less people and only 45 states.

Today there are over three times as many people today as in Teddy’s time, and conservation today is largely in line with the view of John Muir. We need to protect our wilderness treasures from our own greed and for their own sake. Fracking is a last-step process of extraction, and if we can’t make an energy “moonshot” attempt to stop drilling and fracking on public land now, we’re never going to have the motivation to do it until the Four Corners collapses in a gigantic sinkhole.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit Reach Ben Tomkins at


A necessary transition

By Mike Snead

For America, affordable energy supplies are essential for national security and economic prosperity. Today, the United States remains substantially dependent on fossil fuels with these still supplying roughly 80 percent of the energy Americans use. Further, we still import a substantial amount of oil, making America vulnerable to oil embargoes and oil price spikes. Fracking is reducing our dependence on imports, reducing our energy costs, reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, and decreasing the risk of being forced into foreign conflicts.

The decline in U.S. oil production from the 1970s through 2008 was because oil-drilling technologies could not extract oil from shale and tight rock formations. Conventional underground oil and gas reservoirs are in porous rock/sand formations. These contain oil and gas that seeped upwards, over millions of years, from the deeper shale and tight rock layers – the source of “fossil” oil and gas. Once the drilled well enters such a conventional reservoir, natural pressures force oil into the well bore and up to the surface. Eventually, pumping, combined with steam and carbon dioxide injection under pressure, complete the extraction of the oil. Similar methods are used for conventional natural gas reservoirs. These methods do not, however, work in shale/tight rock formations because the low porosity prevents remaining trapped oil and natural gas from reaching the well bore.

After a half-century of development, two remarkable technologies have brought a much-needed solution. Guided drilling makes it possible to drill down vertically over a mile in depth and, then, turn to drill laterally for upwards of several miles. The drill head is capable of being steered to precisely drill down the middle of the targeted shale/rock layers. The second technology is the ability to fracture the rock to create passages for the oil and gas to reach the well bore. This fracturing – “fracking” – is done using high-pressure water or small explosive charges spaced along the well bore.

These two technologies enable a single drilling site, about the size of a football field, to drill multiple wells to extract oil and gas from under several square miles of surrounding land. Today, on average, these drilling sites are spaced about every four to eight miles. This method is ideal for tapping oil and gas resources under national parks where conventional vertical drilling would be unsightly. Within national parks, drilling sites spaced miles apart, and shielded by old growth forest and terrain, should have minimal visual impact and, as the federal government has determined, minimal environmental impact. Within six to eight years, after the oil and gas extraction is completed, the site is cleared to let nature take over. Hence, there is no reason not to exploit this technology to enable owners of mineral rights under national parks to extract available oil and natural gas.

Fracking is not, however, a permanent solution. Fossil fuels are non-sustainable, as we should remember every time we fill up, pay an electric bill, or fly to take a vacation. Recently, the U.S. Geological Survey increased, due to fracking, the size of their estimate of remaining U.S. technically recoverable oil resources. These now stand at about 260 billion barrels. However, the U.S. is now consuming about 6 billion barrels each year. At this rate of consumption, these resources would be exhausted in less than 50 years. For natural gas, it will last only about 80 years. And, keep in mind that, primarily due to immigration, the U.S. population is steadily increasing, expected to grow to over 500 million by 2100. Indeed, U.S. fossil fuel energy security is a very serious national security issue.

On top of this serious energy security challenge lies the issue of the abnormally high and rising level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Our use of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide. Scientists have been able to determine that for the last 400,000 years, up until around 1700 AD when the “industrial age” began, the normal concentration range has been 185-285 parts per million by volume (PPMV). Since then, as the human population grew tenfold and the use of fossil fuels increased, it has risen to today’s 400 PPMV – 40 percent higher. Fracking has increased the supply of natural gas, enabling its use in place of coal to generate electricity. This decreases U.S. carbon dioxide emissions – another key benefit that the anti-fracking environmental movement ignores.

The world is now undergoing an inevitable transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy due to fossil fuel resources being exhausted and reasonable concerns about rising carbon dioxide levels possibly having serious environmental consequences. Fracking has given us more time to make this transition happen peacefully with minimal economic impact. Even national parks have a role to play in making this transition successful. Let us hope, for our children’s sake, we accomplish this in time.

Mike Snead is a professional aerospace engineer focused on advanced human spaceflight and energy systems. You can reach him at


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