Monday, January 27, 2014

Forest Service considers allowing first hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in a national forest

Rural areas have often felt the impact of hydraulic fracturing in their communities and the threat fracking brings to water supplies. Now, the U.S. Forest Service is considering allowing hydraulic fracturing in Virginia's George Washington National Forest, a move that has caught the attention of politicians, considering the area's water supply is used by four million people—including many rural residents—and the Washington D.C. area, Neela Banerjee reports for the Los Angeles Times. If approved, it would the first time the agency allowed a fracking in a national forest. (LAT map)

The 2011 update of the Forest Service's plan for the forest "would have effectively banned fracking," Banerjee reports. "After an outcry from industry, the Forest Service decided to reconsider. Aware of the complexity and contentiousness of the issue, the agency has delayed a final decision several times. Fracking currently is permitted on only two Forest Service preserves, both in the West: Dakota Prairie National Grasslands in North Dakota and Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado."

The George Washington "sits on the eastern edge of the Marcellus Shale formation, whose vast deposits of natural gas have touched off a drilling bonanza in Pennsylvania and West Virginia," Banerjee notes. "The dispute mirrors dozens around the country as hydraulic fracturing unlocks oil and gas previously considered out of reach. But this time, it has stirred concerns not only about water in rural communities but also about the drinking water of one of the nation's biggest metropolitan areas."

Virginia counties near the forest, such as Augusta and Rockingham, "boast some of the state's richest agricultural land, and many towns benefit from tourism tied to the forest," Banerjee writes. Nancy Sorrells, a historian of the region and former Augusta County supervisor, told her, "Local governments here are aware that their most important natural resource is their water." Sorrells and lawyers from the Southern Environmental Law Center said "huge trucks would navigate the sinuous roads into the mountainous terrain, forest land would be cleared for pipelines and hilltops would be flattened for compressor stations," as Banerjee puts it.

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