After years of delays, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proceeding with a competitive oil and gas lease sale for 33 parcels in Ohio's Wayne National Forest.

The BLM will begin taking bids for the land as part of its quarterly competitive lease sale at 8 a.m. EST on Dec. 13. About 1,676 acres will be offered for lease in Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas. Most of that, or roughly 1,600 acres will be offered for lease in the Wayne National Forest across 33 parcels, mostly located in the Utica Shale hotbed of Monroe County. About one acre is up for grabs in nearby Washington County.

The BLM said last year that it was considering leasing about 18,000 acres that the oil and gas industry had nominated for development in the forest (see Shale DailyNov. 17, 2015). The decision came more than three years after the BLM signed a supplemental information report that said an in-depth study it conducted proved that there was no need to amend the forest's 2006 land and resource management plan or supplement its environmental impact statement to address the possible surface impacts from unconventional drilling (see Shale DailyAug. 28, 2012).

Instead, the BLM said it would begin conducting an environmental assessment (EA) for the Marietta Unit, which consists of 40,000 acres in Monroe, Washington and Noble counties, to consider whether to lease parcels in that part of the forest. A draft EA was released in April for public comment.

While environmental advocacy groups have challenged the leasing proposal and called for a full-scale environmental report, private landowners criticized the BLM's delays and urged stakeholders to file public comments (see Shale DailyMay 13). Last week, the BLM issued the final EA, which found oil and gas development in the Marietta Unit would have no effect on climate, wildlife, water quality or public health.

"Based upon a review of the EA and supporting documents, I have determined that the proposed action is not a major federal action and will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment, individually or cumulatively, with other actions in the general area," wrote BLM District Manager Dean Gettinger in a finding of no significant impact that was also released last week.

The BLM said it received 14,180 public comments on the draft EA. The lease sale notice was issued on Monday, marking the beginning of what could be more lease sales across the land identified for oil and gas leasing. The industry had submitted more than 50 expressions of interest for that acreage.

The sale notice also initiates a 30-day protest period. All those opposed to the sale must submit their protests by Nov. 14. The Ohio Environmental Council has already said it plans to appeal the BLM's decision.

As of last year, there were 1,275 active vertical wells in the forest, 493 of them on federal land. Monroe County is one of the state's leading shale gas-producing counties. According to state records, 270 Utica wells have been permitted there.