ATHENS, Ohio (AP) — Both opponents and supporters of opening Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio to oil and gas drilling have been out in force at public hearings this week.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed allowing drilling beneath about 31,900 acres of the forest through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It is determining who owns mineral rights, assessing potential environmental risks and gathering public input.
An activist coalition including the Buckeye Forest Council, Sierra Club and other fracking opponents has called for a "full-scale environmental report" before proceeding. Environmental concerns led the bureau to drop an earlier drilling proposal in 2011.
Many landowners and companies favorable to fracking also have spoken out. About 250 of them showed up to a hearing Wednesday night.
Those in attendance heard the complicated issue arose following more than 100 expressions of interest from approximately 20 oil and gas companies looking to set up well pads in Monroe, Noble and Washington counties in eastern Ohio, according to The Marietta Times.
"Wayne National Forest is in a patchwork quilt sprinkled with private properties," said Becky Clutter, 53, who owns 20 acres surrounded by the forest on three sides in Monroe County. "And like a quilt there's the surface properties owned by both the forest and private entities, but then there's that batting beneath it which is the mineral rights."
Clutter has for the past month been organizing a group of landowners in all three counties in support of this movement. At the hearing her organization, Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration, gathered 200 signatures in support of opening the areas to drilling.
Others voiced concern about the potential environmental and tourism impacts of oil and gas drilling in the protected federal forest.