One Bad Idea after Another

Last week, I posted a piece on the Ohio state legislature’s oxymoronic proposal to preserve state park and forest land by licensing fracking operations on those lands.

I expressed my concern that areas previously degraded by and still recovering from coal mining would be degraded again by fracking. A reader pointed out that the environmental risks related to fracking are not comparable to those related to coal mining. I was not, however, convinced. In the end, I think that the chemicals injected underground during the fracking process and the deep-well injection of the wastes produced in the process will turn out to be much more problematic than the advocates of cheap natural gas are willing to admit.

But, it turns out that the argument may be somewhat moot, because as the following item in the Columbus Dispatch makes clear, the federal government—that’s right, the Forest Service that reports to the Obama administration–has already opened the Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio to fracking and is considering opening it to coal mining.

After reading the item from the Columbus Dispatch, please considering signing a petition to oppose this egregious abuse of the public trust: Tell the U.S. Forest Service: Don’t allow coal mining in Wayne National Forest. Click here to sign.

Government Might Open Wayne National Forest to Coal Mining

After opening the Wayne National Forest to shale-drilling companies last year, federal officials say they are considering the same for coal mining. More than 430 acres of federally owned forest land will be available if the government approves a proposal for underground coal mining.

Rich Jones, a manager at Wayne National Forest, said that, after one company approached the government about leasing the acreage, specialists analyzed potential effects of mining in the forest and found that there would be minimal problems, if any.

If approved, the lease will be open to competitive bids. The public has 30 days to comment.

Federal officials cleared the Wayne National Forest last year for shale drilling, or fracking, a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to loosen trapped oil and gas.

Environmental groups say fracking is an environmental threat and could pollute streams and groundwater. Supporters of the process maintain it is safe.

Jones said there are about 1,230 vertical wells on federal forest land, but officials have received no bids for fracking. That does not mean horizontal drilling is off the table, he added. “They could still potentially happen,” he said. “We have not been approached by any company.”

The federal government owns about 41 percent of the roughly 240,000 forest acres in southeastern Ohio. There is one active coal mine below the forest on private land. Jones said the mine has had “ basically no effect” on the area’s environment, including wildlife and water quality. But environmentalists say that is a hard pill to swallow.

“It is hard to believe that mining 430 acres would have minimal to no effect, especially for an area that was meant to be set aside for environmental protection and for use by the public,” said Trent Dougherty, a staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group. Nathan Johnson, an attorney with the Buckeye Forest Council, said that, because Ohio has so little public land to spare, there is little room for error.

“We could potentially be looking at some acid mine drainage,” Johnson said. “When an underground coal mine is mined out, it basically becomes a water pit.” In other parts of Ohio, water laced with toxic compounds has leaked from abandoned coal mines into streams.

Beneath the forest, coal would be extracted through a process called room-and-pillar-mining, said Zane Daniels, president of the Ohio Coal Association. Using this method, pillars of coal remain untouched to prevent cave-ins. “I think it’s a great idea,” Daniels said of the potential coal mines. “I don’t think there’s risk to the general public.”

By Rex Santus

The Columbus Dispatch: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 2/2

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