The supervisor of Ohio’s Wayne National Forest (WNF) on Monday said an in-depth study has proved that there is no need to amend the forest’s six-year-old land and resource management plan nor to supplement the environmental impact statement (EIS) to address possible surface impacts from unconventional drilling.

Last November the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) withdrew more than 3,300 acres of public land in the WNF from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease sale until a study could be completed on the impacts of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Ohio’s only national forest, which overlies parts of the Utica Shale (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011).

In signing the supplemental information report (SIR), WNF Supervisor Anne Carey said it had been determined that no changes to WNF’s plan were required.

“I have reviewed the new information contained in the supplemental information report, and determined that further environmental analysis is not needed,” said Carey. “I believe that the existing forest plan direction is adequate to address the surface effects anticipated from the potential development of horizontal wells as projected by the Bureau of Land Management.”

Based on Carey’s decision, USFS expects the BLM to resubmit a request to hold an oil and gas lease auction.

The national forest, which is spread across more than 250,000 acres in the hills of southeastern Ohio’s Appalachian foothills, is “patchwork ownership” land between private citizens and the BLM. About 41% (98,858 acres) of the oil and natural gas minerals are owned by the BLM. Privately owned mineral rights underlie close to 59% (142,333 acres) of the forest system land.

A programmatic EIS and revised forest plan were finalized for the WNF in 2006, which made all federally owned minerals available for leasing by the BLM. The decision was developed based on BLM projections at the time that found horizontal drilling was not yet economically feasible, but it could be used to access oil and gas in areas where surface use was not permitted by allowing for pad location outside of the restricted area.

In the new report BLM determined that it is economically feasible for deep well horizontal drilling using high-volume fracking. The SIR also said that through 2016 there is the “potential” for 13 high-volume horizontal drilling well sites to be developed in the WNF.

WNF spokesman Gary Chancey said the decision to not amend the forest plan relied on information from the BLM in the form of a reasonably foreseeable development scenario (RFDS), which forecasts how much oil and gas development likely would take place in the forest over a decade’s time, in this case 2008-2016.

The BLM found that there is the potential for 10 unconventional wells in the forest’s Marietta Unit and three in the Athens Unit, which overall is below its original forecasts. Through 2016 the number of acres potentially to be disturbed by drilling likely won’t exceed that assumed in the existing plan, according to Chancey.

“A big part” of Carey’s decision to keep the 2006 plan as it is was based on the RFDS by the BLM, he said.