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Enviro Groups Intend to Sue Over Ohio National Forest Oil/Gas Auction

Four environmental groups have notified the federal government that they intend to sue over its decision to auction oil and gas leases in Ohio's Wayne National Forest (WNF), contending that federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and Heartwood sent a notice of intent to sue late last month. The groups notified the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), saying that if the agencies don't address the alleged violations then they would sue within 60 days.

The groups wrote that high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations in the WNF would "industrialize" the state's only national forest and imperil listed endangered species that the federal agencies failed to protect in auctioning the land.

"Land clearing for well pads and pipelines will destroy important habitat for the endangered Indiana bat, while fracking will require tremendous amounts of water and heighten the risk of spills and leaks from fracking chemicals and wastewaters, degrading and diminishing streams that support the bat and listed mussels," the groups wrote in their notice.

The BLM earned roughly $1.7 million when it auctioned 682 acres in Monroe County, OH, in December. Eclipse Resources Corp., Gulfport Energy Corp., Flat Rock Development LLC and Petrogas Co. bid successfully for the properties. Last month, the BLM announced a second sale for land in the forest, saying it would auction 1,186 acres in Monroe County in March.

The BLM said in 2015 that it was considering leasing about 18,000 acres that the oil and gas industry had nominated for development in the forest. The decision came more than three years after the agency signed a supplemental information report that said an in-depth study it conducted proved there was no need to amend the forest's 2006 land and resource management plan or supplement its environmental impact statement to address possible surface impacts from unconventional drilling.

BLM began conducting environmental assessments (EA) in 2015 for the forest's broader Marietta Unit and issued a final EA, which found oil and gas development in the forest would have no effect on climate, water quality or public health.

The December lease sale attracted a petition signed by tens of thousands of people and administrative protests filed by most of the environmental groups threatening to sue. They warned at the time that if the BLM went forward with the auction, then a lawsuit would be an option.

The groups said in their notice that they would challenge the agencies' failure to review the "outdated" materials that factored into the authorization of new oil and gas leasing in the forest, among other things.

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