george-washington-national-forestBy the end of September, the US Forest Service is expected to decide if the George Washington National Forest will get fracked. The exploitation of public land in the name of energy continues.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking , is a highly controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale rock. The fluids used in the fracking process are a mix of water and chemicals that are shot into the earth in order to fracture the shale and allow access to the natural gas. Fracking and natural gas has been a huge boom to a struggling American economy, but it is not without its costs. Fracking has been linked to earthquakes, water pollution, and water shortages among many other issues, and fracking companies keep their slurry mixture compositions secret, spreading paranoia about what, exactly, is going into the ground.

The George Washington National Forest is nearly 2 million acres that sits atop a deep layer of rock known as the Marcellus Shale. It is estimated that more than 141 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is in the Marcellus Shale, which runs 95,000 square miles between Virginia and Ohio. That is enough natural gas to meet America’s current energy needs for six straight years at current consumption rates.

The US Forest Service is working on a 15 year forest management plan for George Washington National Forest, and if fracking is not allowed by the end of September that means the door is shut for fracking access to the Marcellus Shale for 15 years. Of course the natural gas industry is saying that the 15 year time table is far too long to be shut out. Not that the fracking industry needs access to more land; there are signs of a coming bust in the natural gas industry, which means the national forest could get fracked for no good reason.

The Army Corps of Engineers supports the ban on fracking in the national forest over concerns that fracking in the area could negatively impact drinking water from the Potomac River, drinking water that goes to 4.5 million customers in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. That’s not something you want to take the chance of polluting, though perhaps a little flammable water in our nation’s capital might wake up politicians to the real dangers of fracking.

Virginia Republican Governor Robert McDonnell has supported the natural gas companies and their desire to frack our national forest. McDonnell says that fracking is bringing jobs to Virginia, and he wants to make Virginia the energy capital of the East Coast. Jobs are good, no doubt, but America’s national parks and forests are a public treasure, and the risks fracking presents are just too much risk.

That said, McDonnell has some other ideas that we can get behind. For him, no energy option is off the table in his state, supporting projects like offshore wind farms, as well as off shore oil drilling. McDonnell is all for solar as well as fracking for natural gas, showing the doubled-edged nature of his energy policy. But one thing McDonnell has little say over is our national forests and fracking.

That decision falls on the US Forest Service, and it is a big decision to make. By the end of September, we will know the future of the next 15 years of public forests and fracking, one that will impact millions of Americans in more than one way. Is six years worth of natural gas really worth opening up our national forests to private interests?

If you had to make this call what would you do?

Source: Boston Globe

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison