COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Four environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over their authorization of oil and gas leases that allow fracking of shale formations in Ohio’s only national forest.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council and regional environmental organization Heartwood filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Columbus federal court challenging the legality of the new leases.
The conservation groups say the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, approved a plan to lease oil and gas companies 40,000 acres of federal land inside Wayne National Forest without taking a “hard look” at the consequences, environmental impacts and adverse effects of its actions.
According to the lawsuit, BLM and Forest Service relied on an outdated, decade-old land and resource management plan – as well as a 2012 supplemental information report that was never subject to public notice and comment – when they authorized the new oil and gas leases in October.
The conservation groups also claim BLM rushed the preparation of a 2015 environmental assessment and then determined that the plan would “not significantly affect the quality of the human environment” without properly analyzing threats to watersheds, public health, climate and endangered species like Indiana bats.
The groups argue that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will industrialize Ohio’s only national forest with roads, well pads and gas lines. Such infrastructure, they say, would destroy animal habitats and pollute water supplies.
“Both humans and wildlife species such as the endangered Indiana bat, river otter, bobcat, and Cerulean warbler, rely on the Wayne National Forest’s undeveloped woods, streams and rivers, and peace and quiet,” the lawsuit states.
They’re also concerned about contamination from fracking chemicals and wastewater transported by trucks and pipelines. In their complaint, the groups highlight four times within the last three years that fracking activity near Wayne National Forest has contaminated streams and harmed wildlife.
The most recent incident occurred in April, when an estimated 2 million gallons of drilling fluid spilled from a natural gas pipeline project in two separate incidents.
“We’re suing to stop this dangerous fracking plan because drinking water safety and public lands should come before corporate profits,” Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release. “The Ohio and Little Muskingum rivers provide precious water to millions of people in Ohio and downstream states. Pollution from fracking would be disastrous for the people who depend on this water.”
Wayne National Forest, located in southeast Ohio, was established in 1934 under the Weeks Act to restore lands and watersheds devastated by many decades of mining and logging.
The forest is divided into three noncontiguous units that contain nearly 834,000 acres of private and federal land spanning 12counties.
BLM has leased 679 acres in the forest’s Marietta unit since authorizing the new leases last October. Many of the leased parcels are located near the Ohio River and its tributaries.
The conservation groups claim the Forest Service and BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving the oil and gas leases without properly addressing the environmental risks.
They seek a declaration that the leases already awarded are void, and an injunction enjoining the federal agencies from authorizing any new leases until after they fully comply with all legal requirements.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council and Heartwood are represented in the case by Nathan Johnson. Wendy Park and Diana Dascalu-Joffe are also listed as counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Heartwood.
Representatives from BLM did not immediately respond Wednesday to a phone call seeking comment.