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Litigation

Feds appeal court order that stalls gas drilling in Ohio national forest

3 minute read

Protesters take part in a rally against U.S. fracked gas exports from the proposed Cove Point facility in Maryland, at a demonstration by several environmental organizations and activists, at the National Mall in Washington July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

  • Federal agencies appeal ruling ordering environmental overhaul of plan to frack in Ohio national forest.
  • Environmentalists say appeal shows "wide and dangerous chasm" between Biden administration's rhetoric and actions.

(Reuters) - The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have appealed to a federal appeals court rulings in Columbus federal court that prohibit them from issuing new permits to drill on oil and gas leases in Ohio's only national forest until they re-assess the environmental effects of fracking on that land.

The federal agencies on Monday appealed rulings that they violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when they failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental impacts, including on air quality, of eventual hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of underground shale when they offered for lease about 40,000 acres of land in the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio. Plans to open up Wayne Forest to fossil fuel extraction go back more than a decade predating former President Donald Trump's push to open up federal lands to oil and gas exploration.

Taylor McKinnon, a campaigner with co-plaintiff the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said: "There's a wide and dangerous chasm between the Biden administration's climate rhetoric and its defense of unlawful fracking."

BLM and USFS spokespeople declined to comment.

CBD and others made NEPA claims against USFS and the BLM in 2017, months after the agencies opened up the land for fracking. About 1,800 acres of land were leased during auctions held in 2016 and 2017.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Michael Watson sided with the plaintiffs, saying that BLM's conclusion that leasing of the forested land would not significantly impact the environment, and that further analysis could wait until developers applied for drilling permits, violated NEPA.

In March, Watson asked BLM and the USFS to revise their NEPA analysis and prohibited them from issuing new drilling permits in the meantime.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Service, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, No. 2:17-cv-00372.

For Center for Biological Diversity et al: Wendy Park of Center for Biological Diversity

For U.S. Forest Service et al: John Tustin of United States Department of Justice

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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