Fortunately, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors (most of the proposed wells are in the Bergton area, but other locations could eventually be impacted) is being just that - cautious - and insisting on local self-determination for setting regulations that will protect the local quality of life. They have set a good example for other jurisdictions.
The George Washington National Forest Management Plan, which will guide activities on nearly 1.1 million acres for the next 15 years, is nearing completion. Although public comments (53,000) on the plan were overwhelmingly (95%) in support of a ban on natural gas fracking and horizontal drilling in the Forest, and 10 local governments in the region support it, it seems the final version of the plan may yet weaken or eliminate the proposed ban - as Ken Landgraf a National Forest planning officer said, "we're evaluating that very carefully to see if we can put together a package of mitigation factors that would allow us to make portions of the forest available." Might be a fox in the henhouse - could oil and gas campaign contributions to key congressmen and high powered D.C. lobbyists be hijacking the process from citizens and local governments?
We could talk about the million plus visitors to the GWNF each year, or the impact to wildlife, or the heavy truck and equipment traffic that would shatter the tranquility of not only the forest but also of the communities along roads accessing this treasure. However the most compelling reason to keep the ban on hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling is the protection of a huge watershed (headwaters of both James and Potomac rivers) that provides drinking water for local residents of the Shenandoah Valley, and also for millions in NOVA, Washington, D.C., and Richmond.
Below is a proposed letter drafted by the Shenandoah Valley Network for you to copy/paste/edit and email directly to Secretary of Agriculture (the Forest Service is part of that Department) Tom Vilsack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Time is of the essence as the Management Plan is expected to be finalized in the next few months.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I support the US Forest Service’s sensible proposal to protect forest resources and drinking water on the George Washington National Forest by prohibiting horizontal drilling on any future federal oil and gas leases in the new Forest Plan.
The Forest Service should stand firm. The well-considered ban, which is intended to limit or prevent high-volume hydraulic fracturing, was supported by the great majority (95 percent) of more than 53,000 public comments, as well as by many local governments adjacent to the Forest.
The proposed ban on horizontal drilling will protect the direct drinking water source for 260,000 local residents and the headwaters of the James and Potomac Rivers which supply water to millions in cities in Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland, safeguard fish and wildlife habitat, and preserve the forest recreation experience for the more than 1 million people who visit the George Washington National Forest each year.
The draft forest plan also proposed to make nearly the entire GW Forest available for vertical gas drilling. The potential impacts of vertical gas drilling on the GW should be more thoroughly studied, with public input, before a decision is made. At a minimum, local drinking water supply watersheds, priority watersheds, and other sensitive natural, scenic and recreation areas should be made unavailable to drilling.
Thank you for your support on this critical issue.More information on Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, the George Washington National Forest Management Plan, and water quality.