Mohican advocates eye forest fracking decision
An aerial view of Mohican-Memorial State Forest. / News Journal file
Todd Hill and Russ Zimmer
MANSFIELD — While many Ohio conservation groups were surprised Tuesday by the news that a federal agency intends to open up a state forest in eastern Ohio to fracking exploration, local environmentalists aren’t letting up their guard concerning Mohican State Park and Mohican-Memorial State Forest.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to sell oil and gas leases under 4,525 acres of Blue Rock State Forest, near Zanesville, in December, it was learned Tuesday.
Attonery Eric Miller, director of Mohican Advocates Inc., said he’s never done title work to determine who owns the mineral rights under the park and forest lands in Ashland County.
“It could be a patchwork of rights,” he said, although he noted that Columbia Gas owns a vast network of storage wells under Mohican that date back to drilling efforts there 65 to 80 years ago, before the land was set aside by the state.
But Miller said Mohican is subject to the same threats posed by hydraulic fracturing that Blue Rock now faces because of legislation passed two years ago in the Statehouse that changed jurisdiction of these lands from the state Division of Parks to the Division of Forestry.
“How does our Division of Forestry view the state of Ohio? Is it a place to reside and call home or is it an expendable piece of land for easy money?” Miller said.
“Alienating patrons by fracking and timbering the land set aside for relaxation and rejuvenation is nothing more than short-term profiteering. If Ohioans are to have a place worthy of sharing with future generations, DOF must plan for the future, not just their pocketbooks.”
State resource officials say the move by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at Blue Rock was made without their input, and environmental-advocacy groups are wondering why no one took any additional steps to inform the public, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch.
Buckeye Forest Council attorney Nathan Johnson noted the bureau’s proposal to sell oil and gas leases on state-owned lands with federally owned minerals was posted online in March with a 30-day comment period. Oil and gas companies will be able to submit bids at a Dec. 12 public sale.
“Unfortunately, it seems nobody in the state of Ohio got the message,” he said.
Robert Gillcash, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources gave its consent to nominate the parcels for lease in what he said is standard procedure.
According to an assessment conducted by the bureau, the land is controlled by the state but subsurface mineral rights were retained by the federal government, which managed the area for a short time in the 1930s.
ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle told CentralOhio.com the state owns a 25-percent share of the park’s mineral rights, but the federal government holds sole jurisdiction on how they are used.
The bureau did not share its environmental assessment with the state and, she said, “(ODNR) didn’t comment during the open-comment period because we didn’t know when it was.”
Gillcash did not respond to multiple messages from CentralOhio.com, but McCorkle said the two agencies had agreed to cooperate in the future, both on this case and others where subsurface mineral rights on state lands might be divided. She said there were “a handful of instances” where that was the case.
The decision to take offers on the mineral rights was made despite some acknowledged negative impacts on recreation in the park. Noise associated with construction would take away from the quiet charm of the park and potentially scare off game animals, the assessment said. Equestrian trails especially could be impacted by the commotion.
Beyond aesthetics, there is also a continuing and contentious debate about the threat fracking poses to the water supply. The industry says the practice is safe, while opponents argue that fracking can contaminate water supplies.
“I’m not opposed to fracking per se,” Miller of Mohican Advocates said. “I’m a heated opponent of it under the current technology and the current regulations. The irony is that by the time it gets here the technology could be safer for the aquifer than it is now.”
To date there has been only a handful of wells dug in Richland, Ashland, Holmes and Knox counties, while fracking is widespread in Ohio’s eastern counties.
“It’s definitely going to come here. It’s a matter of natural gas prices going back up enough to make it attractive. The promoters were so aggressive that they oversold the leases and some are doomed to lose money, but the industry is compelled to go forward.”
While the old gas play of the 1930s and 1940s at Mohican drew out the easy stuff by drilling into porous sandstone, Miller said, today’s drillers are going down further, blasting the source rock below the shale cap at the surface and the sandstone reservoir.
Miller also said the trees above Mohican’s surface are also vulnerable to timbering now that the acreage is overseen by the Department of Forestry.
“We have to keep mentioning that,” he said.
Oil and gas production also has a history in Blue Rock. At least 865 oil and gas wells drilled since 1922 inside the potential lease zone and half of those are still producing, according to the bureau. But those are vertical wells, which have a much smaller footprint than the multi-million dollar horizontal wells which could be installed if the rights are leased.
The names of the three companies that asked for the assessment have not been publicly released. One request was made nearly 12 years ago while the other two were made on August 25, 2010, when leasing activity in the Utica Shale territory was competitive. It is unclear how much interest remains in developing Blue Rock.
As of Tuesday, there have been only three horizontal well permits issued in Muskingum County and none in the last 16 months. One well just a few miles east of Blue Rock, the Meigs C-1H, produced 54 barrels of oil and condensate per day in 2012, which was in the lower half of reported well liquid results, and captured no natural gas.
Up to this point, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a major leaseholder in this area and owner of the Meigs C-1H well, has “no near-term plans to drill” under The Wilds, which is only five miles to the east of Blue Rock.
Feds halt Ohio forest drilling plans – for now
ZANESVILLE — A federal agency has halted plans to auction off mineral rights for shale drilling in a state forest in eastern Ohio after state officials complained they weren’t consulted.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had planned a Dec. 12 public auction to lease 4,525 acres in the Blue Rock State Forest for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But the plan was put on hold Tuesday after Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials told the agency that they had not approved it.
The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/13m9Uiv ) reports that environmental officials applauded the decision, but the drilling in the Muskingum County forest may still happen.
ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle says the state agency will now gather information to make sure threats to the forest and wildlife are minimized by any drilling.