As I make my way through the highways and back roads of southeast Ohio I often pass through parts of the Wayne National Forest. As it turns out, that large geographical section of Ohio has a long history of natural resource development, including oil and gas, but you would not know that just by looking around. It is truly a national treasure that has dramatic local impact not only by its natural beauty but also the resources it provides. What our forefathers did for today’s generation by setting aside that land for both recreational and economic use was a great vision and plan.
What began in 1935 and now covers 241,191 acres in 12 counties, the Wayne National Forest and has 1,283 active wells in its vast acreage. Those are divided up among federally owned minerals and privately owned minerals.
The breakdown of mineral ownership looks like this:
· 41% or 98,858 acres of the WNF, oil and natural gas minerals are federally owned
· 59 % or 142,333 acres of the WNF, oil and natural gas rights are privately owned
Of the 1,283 active wells in the Wayne National Forest, ownership looks like this:
· 493 are government owned
· 790 are privately owned
The breakdown of the location of the federal wells looks like this:
· Washington County: 285 Wells
· Monroe County: 117 Wells
· Perry County: 30 Wells
· Athens County: 25 Wells
· Hocking County: 31 Wells
· Lawrence County: 5 Wells
According to the WNF there are approximately 60,000 acres of public minerals that have not been leased. The WNF is not divided into a nice and neat square box, but is instead a patchwork of land purchases over the decades. And there is great potential that privately owned minerals are stuck in the middle and are inaccessible because the federally owned land cannot be leased. This also could raise the question as to why the federal government wouldn’t want to lease the land in order to capitalize on this resource.
After poking around the web for a bit of information I found a group called LEASE, which stands for “Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration.” They are a group of landowners in and around the Wayne National Forest who want to develop their private minerals but cannot because they are sandwiched in with federally owned minerals. They advocate for access to their property and mineral rights and are asking the government to work with them to do so. The timing could not be better, with horizontal drilling a well pad could be miles outside of the forest and go underneath the public and private property to access the natural gas locked in the shale formation. This would not disturb the surface, and folks could still hike, bike and play in the water without any interruption.
As with much of Ohio, there is an abundant history of natural gas development and the Wayne National Forest is certainly part of that legacy. A legacy that is not totally been utilized, but will hopefully be soon.