Forest lands in the East attract oil and gas bidders, but some question rush

Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
June 9, 2012

Oil and gas companies looking to lease swaths of U.S. Forest Service land holding the promise of shale gas deposits and other fossil fuel resources have made the Bureau of Land Management’s Eastern States Office in Springfield ground zero for a new land rush.

For years Forest Service land in the East was considered irrelevant when it came to oil and gas leasing. But in the past year and a half, the federal government has leased or scheduled for auction more than 384,000 acres at the request of private bidders, more than 10 times as much land as it had leased in the previous two years.

The burst of activity has sparked a public debate over how to reconcile the different uses of national forests.

The office was scheduled to auction the rights to energy exploration on nearly 90,000 acres of Forest Service land in four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — next week, but announced Friday it would delay the Alabama auction in the face of widespread protest there. Meanwhile, officials at Virginia’s George Washington Forest are embroiled in a controversy over whether to ban any future horizontal drilling in the forest, as they proposed last year, or leave open the possibility for companies in the future.

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