Previously on the blog, we've covered a fracking ban in New York, litigation against a fracking protestor in Pennsylvania, and state oversight (or lack thereof) also in Pennsylvania. Now the issue is coming uncomfortably close to the city many coordinators and contributors to this blog call home.
Under a new federal agency plan, fracking will be permitted in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Although the amount of the forest open to fracking has been reduced to less than 20% of the original area proposed — and at least one environmental group praises the limit — the AP reports that:
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. . . . Environmental groups fear the drilling and its waste could pollute mountain streams that directly provide drinking water to about 260,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley. Another 2.7 million people in Northern Virginia and Washington get part of their drinking water from the forest.
This is unsettling for me on a personal as well as policy level. The AP goes on to reassure us Washingtonians that the risk is theoretical:
This lobbying fight was mostly over principle, since no energy company has wanted to actually drill on the land they're leasing, [Robert] Bonnie [the undersecretary for national resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture] acknowledged. "The economic value of these reserves is very low. We've had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest," Bonnie said.
Still, I'm not entirely reassured. Fracking poses significant risks, and a company could well decide to frack the forest in the future.
You can read the rest of yesterday's AP story about the G.W. National Forest here.