George Washington National Forest

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Listen in: SELC’s press conference on decision to protect the George Washington Forest from fracking More »

In its recent release of the management plan for the George Washington National Forest, the US Forest Service announced it would keep the forest off limits to gas drilling of any kind--including "fracking"--except for a small portion already subject to pre-existing private gas rights. 

SELC's held a teleconference for press immediately following the decision:

Read the official press release here.

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Protecting a Treasured Place

The largest national forest in the east, the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest in western Virginia and West Virginia has been a favorite destination for generations of outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers and campers to hunters and horsemen. These public lands are also a haven for wildlife such as black bear, songbirds, native brook trout and many other species, and are the source of clean drinking water and economic benefit for dozens of communities.

A New Plan for the National Forest

The George Washington National Forest (GW) is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which is in the process of revising the long-term management plan for the forest. This plan, to be released likely in 2014, will guide virtually all activity in the forest for at least the next decade. Despite the extraordinary environmental, economic, and recreational role the GW plays in our region, the Forest Service is currently weighing whether to open these public lands to horizontal gas drilling.

Prohibiting horizontal drilling in the GW would curb high-volume hydraulic fracturing— “fracking”—to extract natural gas from shale deposits under the forest. Fracking is a risky form of drilling that entails injecting huge volumes of water and chemicals into the ground in order to crack the shale and release natural gas trapped in its fissures. Fracking also involves intensive industrialization of land, to include drilling pads, containment ponds, storage tanks, roads and heavy truck traffic, and more. Such activity in the GW could impact public water supplies, the forest’s fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation treasures and experiences in the GW. One of the country’s most popular national forests is absolutely the wrong place for drilling and fracking. 

Among other important values, the GW is a direct source of local drinking water for over 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley, and the forest is in the watershed of the James and Potomac Rivers, which supply drinking water to about 4.5 million people in cities further downstream, including Richmond, Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area.

We are also urging the Forest Service to further study, with public participation, the draft plan’s proposal to allow vertical drilling, because vertical wells are usually fracked and also could seriously impact water quality and other national forest values.  At a minimum, natural, scenic and recreational areas should be protected from any drilling.

Coalition Protects the Forest for the Future

SELC and our local, regional, and national partner groups are working to persuade the Forest Service to put stronger environmental protections in place for the GW. Our vision for the future of the GW includes clean water, thriving fish and wildlife populations and ample, healthy habitat, old-growth forests and prime recreation spots, including remote, wild backcountry areas.

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