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Sunday, August 11, 2013
Since they were established 95 years ago, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have provided a beautiful backdrop and a beloved back yard for the Roanoke Valley region. Now the GW, the largest national forest east of the Mississippi, faces an unprecedented threat as the federal government considers opening it up to natural gas drilling.
The treasured GW helps support Virginia’s multimillion-dollar tourism and outdoor recreation industry, as more than 1 million people annually come from around the country — and from next door — to hike its picturesque vistas, fish trout streams in the headwaters of the James River, bike winding trails, and hunt and camp in favorite family spots.
It’s hard to imagine a less suitable place for industrial gas drilling and fracking.
Shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involve pumping millions of gallons of water, usually mixed with known toxic chemicals, deep underground to crack open shale rock containing natural gas. Reports of gas leaks and wastewater polluting drinking water wells, rivers and streams elsewhere in the country raise red flags about the risks.
Although the industry often disputes these risks, there can be little debate that drilling and fracking in the GW would have awful impacts on the land. This is a major industrial activity, requiring clear-cutting and bulldozing to build well pads and potentially hundreds of miles of access roads with heavy truck traffic and pipelines, carving up the national forest and disrupting adjacent farms and forestlands. Contrast this image with the undisturbed nature the GW now provides, which greatly enriches this region’s quality of life.
Two years ago in response to widespread concerns about fracking possibly coming to the GW, the U.S. Forest Service sensibly proposed to prohibit horizontal gas drilling on the national forest for the next 10 to 15 years, which would limit the riskiest and most destructive form of fracking. More than 50,000 people (95 percent of those who commented) and 10 local governments surrounding the forest, including the city of Roanoke, asked for a ban or moratorium on horizontal drilling or fracking in the GW. But the gas industry and other drilling proponents pressured the Forest Service to reconsider the proposal. A final decision is expected this fall.
Large-scale gas drilling has never taken place in the GW. For decades, the Forest Service and locals have taken care of the national forest so it continues to supply clean water and timber, supports healthy fish and wildlife populations, and provides beautiful places to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
We have a long-standing heritage in Virginia of appreciating and safeguarding our national forests. Let’s not abandon that now with the GW at stake. Read more at ProtectTheGW.org.
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