Home Energy and Environment New George Washington National Forest Plan Released; Fracking Allowed?

New George Washington National Forest Plan Released; Fracking Allowed?

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This doesn't look good to me, but let's hope the details are better than the "top line" appears. Bottom line: of course there should be no “fracking” in the GW National Forest, that’s just crazy. Why do I say that? See the presentations by Earthworks and DC Water and I think you’ll quickly get the picture.

New George Washington National Forest Plan Balances Multiple Uses

Provides for Recreation, Wildlife and Water Quality, Sets Oil and Gas Availability

ROANOKE, Va., November 18, 2014 – Today, the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Regional Forester released the Final Forest Plan that will direct management of the George Washington National Forest. The plan revises the 1993 plan, as required by the National Forest Management Act, and contains guidance for managing nearly 1.1 million acres of national forests in Virginia and West Virginia.

“This forest plan provides a balance of management direction that addresses both the long-term ecological sustainability of the George Washington National Forest, as well as the long-term social and economic needs of those that depend on or are impacted by the Forest,” said Southern Regional Forester Ken Arney.

The plan works to fulfill the Forest Service’s mission of managing national forests for multiple uses and reflects extensive input from many deeply committed individuals, organizations, and communities representing diverse interests and uses, who have worked closely together over six years. As a result of this collaborative input, implementation of this plan will:

·         Assure water quality with increased streamside protections

·         Improve wildlife habitat, healthy forests, and local economic opportunities with prescribed fire and timber harvest

·         Enhance and protect recreation opportunities, including recommending for congressional designation a 90,000 acre National Scenic Area on Shenandoah Mountain located in Rockingham, Augusta, and Highland counties and 27,000 additional acres to the Wilderness Preservation System

·         Provide a comprehensive, balanced strategy for energy development consistent with other resource values, including for wind and oil and gas.

The plan reflects thousands of comments from the public, including local communities.    

“Our work does not end with approval of this plan,” said Tom Speaks, forest supervisor of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. “The next step is to work together to develop and implement projects that move us toward the vision described in the plan. We are looking forward to furthering the relationships built during the plan revision process and continuing to work together to address complex social and environmental issues.”

The plan includes a decision that limits availability for new oil and gas leasing, while establishing a comprehensive framework for potential development on about 10,000 acres where there are existing valid leases, as well as on 167,200 acres with existing private mineral rights. Presently, none of the existing federal leases or existing privately owned mineral rights on the Forest are active. There is also no mineral development occurring on adjacent private lands. The decision does not prohibit any specific technology for developing oil and gas resources, including hydraulic fracturing.  Any proposal to develop existing leases on the Forest would undergo additional environmental analysis and provide opportunities for public comment and engagement.

Approximately 2.7 million people in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. rely upon the George Washington National Forest for a portion of their water supply. The Forest is the largest federal landholding in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and is the direct source of drinking water for about 262,000 people in local communities in and around Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The area also contains four of the top 10 agriculture producing counties in Virginia and, with over a million recreation site visits a year, the Forest contributes more than 10 million dollars to the local recreation and tourism economy.

  • pontoon

    It’s my understanding most of the acreage to be made available for fracking is in Highland County….the same county Dominion has slated as their entry point into Virginia for the proposed ACP.  There are also rumors, which I haven’t been able to confirm, that Dominion wanted to put windmills in Highland and they were denied by local government.   I’m usually not much on conspiracy theories.  However, it seems just too coincidental Highland County, home to some of the most pristine mountain habitats in Virginia is now being subjected to not only the proposed ACP, but by the potential fracking in those same forests.

    I hear Governor McAuliffe saying he wouldn’t allow fracking in the GW and that the pipelines have nothing to do with fracking.  How’s that working out for you now, Governor?  

  • From the Revised Land and Resource Management Plan:

    At the same time that the Forest Plan was completed, the GWNF also made the decision on which lands would be available for oil and gas leasing. This leasing availability decision, as described in the Record of Decision, makes National Forest System lands unavailable for federal oil and gas leasing. This decision does not affect existing oil and gas leases or privately owned oil and gas rights. Since this is a separate decision, new information could develop resulting in a new availability decision before the plan goes through another full revision. Therefore, this plan establishes a framework to guide any future availability decisions by including direction on the suitability of areas for leasing under various conditions and standards to direct drilling activities.

    Under the framework described above, the Plan includes standards to reduce or eliminate many of the potential resource impacts from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Public water supply watersheds as identified by the Commonwealth of Virginia for North River, Dry River-Skidmore (and watershed upstream of Dry River), Pedlar River (and watershed upstream of Pedlar River), Smith Creek, North Fork of Shenandoah, North Fork Shenandoah-Cedar Creek, Jackson River, and Coles Run are not suitable for oil and gas leasing.

    Areas with special biological concerns are suitable for leasing but only with No Surface Occupancy stipulations

    to prevent impacts to the sensitive resources in these areas. Controlled Surface Use stipulations are used to restrict road construction in semi-primitive recreation settings. The direction for each management prescription area identifies the type of stipulation that applies to oil and gas leasing as a suitable use. Whether land within that prescription area could become available (and the stipulations that apply) depends upon the decision on lands administratively available and if other characteristics of the land apply (like the presence of public water supply watersheds, Cow Knob salamander populations, or semi-primitive recreation settings).

    The following list identifies the areas of the Forest that are suitable or not suitable for leasing. The list below is hierarchical. For example, if a semi-primitive setting occurs in a public water supply watershed, it would be not suitable for leasing because it is in a public water supply watershed.

    Legally Unavailable for Leasing:

    · Designated Wilderness

    · Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area

    Not suitable for Leasing:

    · Public Water Supply Watersheds, as defined by the State (and the watersheds upstream of the Dry

    River PWS and the Pedlar River PWS)

    · Laurel Fork area

    · Recommended Wilderness Study Areas

    · Shenandoah Mountain Recommended National Scenic Area

    · Indiana Bat Primary Cave Protection Areas

    Suitable, with a No Surface Occupancy Stipulation:

    · Special Biological Areas

    · Shenandoah Crest (and other areas known to support Cow Knob salamanders)

    · Key Natural Heritage Community Areas

    · Appalachian National Scenic Trail corridor

    · Cultural/Heritage Areas

    · Indiana Bat Secondary Protection Areas

    · Eligible Wild and Scenic River Corridors

    · Research Natural Areas

    · Remote Backcountry Areas, includes all Inventoried Roadless Areas

    Suitable, with a Controlled Surface Use Stipulation:

    · Highlands Scenic Tour Byway

    · Scenic Corridors and Viewsheds

    · Concentrated Recreation Areas

    · Blue Ridge Parkway Corridor

    · Riparian Areas and Corridors

    · Semi-Primitive Motorized or Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized settings

    Suitable, with Standard Lease Terms:

    · Administrative Sites

    · Communication Sites

    · Utility Corridors

    · All-Terrain Vehicles Use Areas

    · Dispersed Recreation Areas

    · Pastoral Landscape and Rangelands

    · Mosaics of Habitat

    In approving Surface Use Plans of Operation, the Forest Service will encourage operators to monitor any private

    wells located within 1,000 feet of gas wells drilled on the Forest. The Forest Service may also require the

    installation of monitoring wells on the Forest.

  • Future projections of the kind and amount of oil and gas activity that could be reasonably anticipated began with a Reasonable Foreseeable Development Scenario (RFD) prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The RFD is based on the assumption that all lands on the Forest would be available for oil and gas leasing under standard lease terms and conditions, except for those areas withdrawn from leasing by law (Wilderness and National Scenic Area). It covers a time period of 15 years and includes all lands within the boundaries of the George Washington National Forest (GWNF) regardless of mineral estate ownership. Privately owned mineral rights are constitutionally protected property rights and can be exercised at any time. The Forest Plan can identify lands with federal mineral rights as administratively unavailable for federal leasing in addition to those withdrawn by law. Therefore, the RFD can be viewed as the ‘maximum’ amount of federal oil and gas leasing activity projected.

    The RFD estimated that a maximum of 20 vertical exploration/evaluation wells could be drilled over the next  15 years which will prove the presence of productive Marcellus Shale in the area of the GWNF. Additionally, 50 vertical and 249 horizontal development wells could be drilled.

  • U.S. Forest Service Releases New George Washington National Forest Plan

    RICHMOND, VA– The U.S. Forest Service today released a new plan for how the George Washington National Forest will be used and managed in the future.  Among other things, the plan halts any expansion of dirty fuel leasing and fracking in the forest.

    The George Washington is the largest forest on the East Coast and serves not only as a major recreation destination, but an important water source for millions of people. More than 75,000 public comments were submitted in opposition to fracking in the forest, echoing that of local governments, water agencies, the National Park Service and other federal agencies, and Virginia elected officials.

    In response Glen Besa, Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter issued the following statement.

    “It’s encouraging that the Forest Service listened to 75,000 citizens and decided to protect almost 90 percent of the George Washington National Forest from new gas leasing and fracking, despite tremendous industry pressure to do the opposite. The agency’s decision protects all forest lands in the George Washington that were not already under existing leases or in private mineral ownership.

    “The risks of fracking are well documented, from water, air and climate pollution to the industrialization of special places. For the George Washington, fracking could lead to the pollution of the headwaters for drinking water for the region, including Washington, D.C.  The large-scale industrial operations and heavy truck traffic that accompany fracking could also damage the scenic beauty so popular with hikers, campers and others who recreate there.

    “Unfortunately, these risks remain for the existing leases in the forest.  While the leases may be low value, they are certainly high risk. As the closest national forest to metropolitan Washington, D.C., the George Washington provides a unique outdoor experience for millions of people, one that can never be replaced. People don’t come to the George Washington National Forest to hike in an industrial park or to breathe polluted air.

    “Dirty fuels and national forests do not belong together. The safest place for dirty fuels like natural gas is in the ground. The Sierra Club is committed to continuing work to keep them there and to protect special places like the George Washington. “

  • Statement of Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel

    “Unfortunately, allowing the use of fracking within a part of the George Washington National Forest is part of the Obama Administration’s embrace of oil and gas drilling, despite the water, air and climate pollution that is proven to come along with it. In the face of dire warnings from the world’s foremost climate scientists about the need to phase out fossil fuels by 2100 and an authoritative body of science demonstrating the health impacts faced by communities living near oil and gas development, this administration continues to promote an ‘all of the above’ energy policy rather than a swift transition to renewable energy. Nearby communities, local governments, the Governor of Virginia, every major water utility in the DC area, and the Forest Service’s original recommendation had it right when they opposed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest. The President can protect the climate and public health, or he can continue to promote fracking. He cannot do both.”

  • Charlottesville, VA – Local conservation and community groups expressed support for today’s decision from the U.S. Forest Service to make the George Washington National Forest (GW) unavailable for oil and gas drilling, except for a small portion of the forest already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights.

    The long-term forest management plan, released today, makes clear that no additional GW lands will be opened up to leasing and drilling, while existing gas development rights remain unaddressed by the plan. On this 1.1-million acre forest, only around 10,000 acres are currently under gas lease and 167,000 acres are subject to private mineral rights. There is no gas drilling on the GW currently.

    “This decision protects the existing uses and values of the special George Washington National Forest,” said Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “As a native Virginian who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I’m pleased that the U.S. Forest Service has done the right thing and recognized that the George Washington National Forest-a beloved place for our entire region-deserves protection.”

    As the largest national forest in the East, over a million people per year visit the GW and its headwaters ultimately provide drinking water supplies for more than 4.5 million people. The threat of it being opened to large-scale gas drilling had caused widespread concerns about converting popular national forest lands to industrial sites.

    Three years ago the Forest Service released a draft GW plan which would have prohibited horizontal gas drilling but made most of the forest available for vertical drilling. Since then, dozens of public interest organizations, eleven local governments surrounding the forest, Governor McAuliffe, several public water suppliers, and over 75,000 public comments weighed in to support the Forest Service’s proposal, as did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service. U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine also urged the Forest Service to heed Virginians’ clear wishes. The final forest plan takes a different protective approach, preventing any form of oil or gas drilling on the majority of the GW lands.

    “The federal government has rightly heeded local wishes and chosen to protect the unspoiled lands of the GW,” said Megan Gallagher, interim director of the Shenandoah Valley Network. “There is no history of major oil and gas development in the Shenandoah Valley and not one county has embraced industrial gas development as a priority for public or private lands. This decision preserves the Valley’s recreation and agriculture-driven economy.”

    As the home to popular destinations such as Shenandoah Mountain and the Great Eastern Trail, the GW provides abundant recreational opportunities to the approximately 10 million people who live within a couple hours’ drive, and it is a major economic contributor to the region. Visitors to the GW contribute substantially to the $13.6 billion in consumer spending, $923 million in tax revenue, and 138,000 jobs generated annually by outdoor recreation in Virginia.

    Local and regional governments and businesses have expressed widespread concern that opening the lands to gas drilling and fracking would negatively affect local economies, particularly adjacent farms, which provide the economic backbone of the area. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, and the GW region provides more than two-thirds of the value of the Commonwealth’s agricultural production.

    Because fracking uses huge quantities of water and often undisclosed chemicals to break up shale formations deep underground to release natural gas, this decision will ensure that high-quality drinking water continues to flow from the GW. The GW is a direct source of local drinking water to more than 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley , and it lies in the watersheds of the James, Shenandoah, and Potomac Rivers-which ultimately provide water to over 4.5 million people downstream in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA. Map of local drinking water supplies: http://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/maps/marcellus-shale-fullsize-map.pdf

    “Communities in the GW region recognize the risks fracking poses to our water, our economy, and our quality of life,” said Kim Sandum, Executive Director of Community Alliance for Preservation in Rockingham County. “This decision protects and preserves the forest itself and also the communities that value and depend on it.”

  • Delegate Rip Sullivan Statement on Fracking in GW Forest

    Today, the U.S. Forest Service reversed course and paved the way for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the George Washington Forest.

    “The George Washington Forest is a national treasure and a favorite place for many 48th district residents,” said Sullivan, “it’s something we must protect. In addition to impacting the scenic beauty of the Forest, hydraulic fracturing poses a great risk to local streams and the water supply. While I understand that some additional precautions will be implemented, the fact remains that when we inject known toxins and carcinogens into the Earth, there are bound to be some hazardous environmental consequences. I am not prepared to accept these consequences.”

    “I have begun exploring ways through the legislative process by which we can ensure no fracking takes place in the George Washington Forest, and look forward to attacking this problem head-on in the upcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly. I will also continue to stay in touch with the Governor’s office and the US Interior Department to do all I can to preserve the integrity of one of our Commonwealth’s most prized possessions- the George Washington National Forest.”