Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fracking to be allowed in George Washington National Forest

Fracking will be allowed in George Washington National Forest but only in limited areas, Brock Vergakis reports for The Associated Press. "The federal management plan reverses an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing that the U.S. Forest Service had proposed in 2011 for the 1.1 million-acre forest, which includes the headwaters of the James and Potomac rivers. Those rivers feed the Chesapeake Bay, which is the focus of a multibillion-dollar, multistate restoration directed by the Environmental Protection Agency." (Daily News-Record photo by Nikki Fox: George Washington National Forest)

Under the plan, most of the woods atop the Marcellus shale formation will be off-limits for fracking, Vergakis writes. "A total ban would have been a first for America's national forests, which unlike national parks are commonly leased out for mining, timber and drilling. But some environmentalists were pleased that at least some balance was struck between energy development and conservation."

The plan "eliminates the potential for oil and gas leases on 985,000 acres where they could have been granted and permits drilling only on 167,000 acres with existing private mineral rights and 10,000 acres already leased to oil and gas companies," Vergakis writes. "The private mineral rights are scattered throughout the forest, which hadn't updated its management plan since 1993."

Environmental groups are concerned the drilling and its waste may pollute mountain streams that serve as drinking water for approximately 260,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley, Vergakis writes. "Another 2.7 million people in Northern Virginia and Washington get part of their drinking water from the forest." Opponents also argued that an abundanceof trucks, wells and other infrastructure would hurt a tourist business that attracts more than one million visitors annually. (Read more)

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