A petition filed by more than 92,000 people in mid-November with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and an administrative appeal filed by environmental groups to stop an oil and gas lease sale in Ohio's Wayne National Forest (WNF) could impact a scheduled Dec. 13 auction, an official said.

The BLM is scheduled to begin taking bids for the land as part of its quarterly competitive lease sale at 8 a.m. EST on Dec. 13. BLM Eastern States Office spokesperson Davida Carnahan said the petition is being considered as a formal protest that was filed during a period to object after the sale notice was issued in October. Carnahan said the agency would respond by Dec. 12 and post its response on the BLM website.

"We won't know if this protest may affect the Dec. 13 sale until BLM Eastern States land law examiners have determined whether or not it should be upheld," Carnahan said of the petition.

Activists from Southeast Ohio and across the country filed the petition on Nov. 14, delivering along with it a protest letter and saying the struggle to stop oil and gas leasing in the WNF is akin to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. The petition was organized by the California-based environmental group Sproutogether. 

Several conservation groups also co-filed an administrative protest with the BLM asking the agency to halt the auction. Allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state's only national forest "would degrade streams and groundwater, fragment wildlife habitat and worsen climate change,” the groups said. They also said the BLM "ignored the likelihood that opening these parcels to development would facilitate more fossil fuel extraction on adjacent private land."

The protest was co-filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Heartwood, the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and the Sierra Club. OEC spokesperson Brian Kaiser said the BLM has yet to respond to the filing, but the agency has until 60 days after the Dec. 13 auction to do so. "If BLM decides to move forward with leasing, we will file an appeal, either with the agency directly or in federal district court," he said.

After years of delays, the BLM said in October that it would offer about 1,600 acres for lease in the WNF across 33 parcels, mostly in the Utica Shale hotbed of Monroe County. About one acre is up for grabs in nearby Washington County.

The BLM said last year it was considering leasing about 18,000 acres that the oil and gas industry had nominated for development in the forest. It began conducting an environmental assessment (EA) for the broader Marietta Unit, which consists of 40,000 acres in Monroe, Washington and Noble counties. The BLM issued the final EA, which found oil and gas development there would have no effect on climate, water quality or public health.

There are roughly 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, 279 Utica wells have been permitted there. Some private landowners have also criticized the BLM's delays and urged stakeholders to file public comments in favor of leasing the land.