Ohio landowners take their Wayne National Forest case to Washington

Staff report

The argue that bureaucrats block private property rights, pursuit of prosperity

WOODSFIELD, Ohio — After seven years of inaction, private land and mineral owners adjacent to Wayne National Forest parcels have had enough of the bureaucratic red tape tying up oil and gas permits. As a result, several of them took their case to Washington, D.C.

Representatives from the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) and the Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration (LEASE) met with Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Rob Portman, Congressman Bill Johnson, Congressman Bob Gibbs, the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Secretary, and the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Energy and Mineral Resources, among others.

Landowners are demanding the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Field Office comply with multiple executive orders and permanent instructions directly from Secretary Zinke to move federal leasing and permitting forward and stop ongoing obstruction by federal bureaucrats, which amounts to a de-facto moratorium on the development of private minerals.

“The Wayne National Forest mineral development debate has been and continues to be a private property rights issue. The majority of the surface and minerals are privately owned,” said Becky Clutter, a volunteer board member of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) Appalachia Chapter and also the founder of the Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration (LEASE). “Federal bureaucrats are violating mineral owner’s private property rights—it’s been going on too long and property owners want to see this resolved. Individuals who work in these federal agencies have been instructed by recent actions taken by President Trump and Secretary Zinke to move these lease sales and permits along, but they aren’t doing it. It’s more than dereliction of duty, its obstructionism—and private property owners are fed up.”

Of the total number of surface acres in the six townships with the preponderance of Wayne National Forest (WNF) acreage in Monroe County, the forest only owns roughly 10% of the total mineral estate in those townships due to the large number of private parcels as well as the severed mineral ownership to private citizens underlying the forest surface. Thus, 10% ownership with its associated bureaucratic red tape is preventing the remainder 90% from development.

The Wayne is a scattering of forest parcels mixed in and around privately-owned lands. The forest parcels are not contiguous. Clutter states, “The big green areas on most maps depicting the Wayne’s three ranger units does not accurately reflect the sparse nature of forest parcels compared to privately held lands. Additionally, of the actual parcels that the forest owns, private citizens own most of the mineral estate underlying those parcels.”

The landowners are alleging that since the Center for Biological Diversity (a group currently under investigation by the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for potential ties to foreign entitles and non-U.S.-based environmental groups) sued the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, the leasing of federal minerals has slowed and no permits to drill have been issued. Further, they allege that recent guidance from the Department of the Interior is not being translated through the regional Bureau of Land Management offices at the field level.

A total of four lease sales have occurred in the WNF dating back to December of 2016. All of the lease sales had parcel specific environmental assessments done which stipulated that no surface disruption from drilling be allowed to occur. All drilling will be done on private property. To date, not a single permit to drill has been issued after these lease sales. Clutter states, “The situation gets even more convoluted as private landowners are now being told that simply because their private property gets included into a drilling unit that contains federal parcels, their private parcels may now be subject to full NEPA review including archeological surveys. The federal government’s intrusion on private property is undeniable.”

Clutter goes on to say, “Center for Biological Diversity, with its foreign backers, does not have the best interest of Ohioans in mind. This is evident in its efforts to ban oil and gas production. We are asking members of Congress and the Administration to hold these federal bureaucrats accountable and make them do their jobs—we are demanding that private property rights be restored in and around the artificial boundaries of the Wayne National Forest.”

During their DC meetings, NARO and LEASE members also had the opportunity to discuss the problems surrounding Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and income distributions from the Wayne Nation Forest.


Staff report