Report Paints Fracking’s Big Picture Ahead Of Decision On Virginia National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service could soon give the go-ahead to fracking inside Virginia’s beloved George Washington National Forest.
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    The U.S. Forest Service is expected in June to end two years of debate over whether to ban hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest, whose Little Sluice Mountain is pictured. (Photo/Aneta Kaluzna via Wikimedia Commons

    The U.S. Forest Service is hoped by many to end debate over whether to ban hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest, whose Little Sluice Mountain is pictured. (Photo/Aneta Kaluzna via Wikimedia Commons)

    Environment Virginia is coming out ahead of the U.S. Forest Service, releasing a report indicating the harmful impact fracking would have on the ecological well-being of the George Washington National Forest. Using data compiled since 2005, the report includes shocking statistics of the damage the industry has already caused, with more than 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater produced.

    The organization, which serves as an advocate for the George Washington Forest’s protection, is using the report to highlight the possible scenarios the forest could face if it opens its doors to the fracking industry.

    The forest, known as the GW, is being eyed by the oil and gas industry, which will at the end of the month be given a decision by the U.S Forest Service regarding whether or not the forestland is open for business.

    Environment Virginia, which advocates against fracking throughout the nation, issued its report Tuesday, claiming its study found that the fracking footprint throughout the nation has included toxic wastewater, air pollution and land damage, along with copious water use.

    “The numbers don’t lie — fracking has already taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment in other parts of the country,” Sarah Bucci, Environment Virginia campaign director, said in a press release. “The George Washington, a favorite destination among Virginians to hike, camp and fish, is too precious a place to risk the scale and scope of pollution that comes with this dirty drilling practice.”


    A look at the report

    The report, titled “Fracking by the Numbers,” looks at the overall fracking industry in the United States., highlighting the common concerns through real-life incidents that have taken place in fracking hot spots.

    “As fracking expands rapidly across the country, there are a growing number of documented cases of drinking water contamination and illness among nearby residents,” the report states. “Yet it has often been difficult for the public to grasp the scale and scope of these and other fracking threats.”

    For that reason, Environment Virginia attempted to compile statistics regarding every documented case since 2005 — in all, this study looked at fracking in the 18 states where it exists and where collectively 80,000 wells have been dug.

    The major findings of the report?

    In 2012, 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater were produced through fracking, with an estimated 2 billion gallons of chemicals used for fracking since 2005. The report highlights New Mexico in particular, where fracking wastewater pits contaminated groundwater 400 times.

    Wastewater is considered to be a dangerous liquid combination, which is created from the “left-over” drilling technique. When a well is fracked, a combination of water, silica sand and chemicals are injected into the ground, where it breaks up formations where oil and gas are hidden.

    When the oil and gas is extracted, the liquid cocktail comes along with it, in addition, sometimes, to radioactive material. The oil and gas is separated from the liquids, and from there, wastewater is either injected into retired oil wells or stored in pits, where it awaits transfer to a facility that processes the water.

    “This toxic wastewater often contains cancer-causing and even radioactive material, and has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico,” the report states.

    The point of the report was to provide Americans with a big picture view of the dangers of fracking, relating that to the possibilities of similar events occurring in the GW if fracking were approved.

    Not everyone buys the report, however. The petroleum industry’s Energy in Depth organization slammed the report, referring to it as including “scripted talking points from activists who are solely interested in shutting down development.”

    Katie Brown, spokesperson for Energy in Depth, told the Staunton, Va. News Leader that the report lacked merit, claiming it is “completely devoid of any meaningful context and is purely about throwing large numbers out there and hoping the emphasis will be on those numbers, not what they actually mean.”

    For Environment Virginia, though, the goal was to compile data from throughout the nation, presenting it for the first time in a report that looked at the industry overall since 2005.

    Relevant to the case of possible GW fracking, the report indicates that 360,000 acres of land have been damaged since 2005 directly through fracking. For those with a profound appreciation for the GW, this, along with contamination and wastewater pits, is of top concern.


    Don’t mess with hikers

    The debate surrounding fracking in the GW hit a high point in 2011. During that year, the U.S. Forest Service revisited its forest plan, which it does every 10 to 15 years.

    In its draft version of its updated forest plan, the Forest Service limited fracking from taking place inside 1.1 million acres of the GW. When the oil and gas industry got wind of this, it began a campaign to have that language removed from the draft.

    The Forest Service agreed to rethink its proposed outlaw on fracking, with plans to release their final version — which will indicate their decision — by the end of the month.

    The possibility that the Forest Service could roll back protections on the treasured forestland has caused environmental organizations to lobby for an outlaw of fracking, launching campaigns aimed not only at fellow “environmentalists” but also those who simply escape from nearby cities to enjoy the respite of the forest.

    In a petition to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Environment Virginia urges reconsideration of any plans that would allow fracking within the forest.

    “The GW is one of Virginians’ favorite destinations for camping, hiking and other outdoor recreation,” it states. “Not only that, but the forest is in the watershed of the James and Potomac Rivers that provide clean drinking water for millions of Virginians and flow into the Chesapeake Bay.”

    The forest is home to a stretch of America’s famous Appalachian Trail and is home to an abundance of wildlife, serving as a habitat for 60 species of mammals, 200 species of birds and 78 reptile species. It’s also a site for 53 recognized endangered and animal plant species, along with more than 2,300 miles of streams.

    “The GW is a really popular place for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking,” Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Sarah Francisco told Mint Press News in April. “It’s unique because it’s the largest forest to the East and close to Washington, D.C., and has more roadless acres this side of the Mississippi.”

    That love of the forest also means money for those who work in the recreational field, as it’s considered Virginia’s most beloved escape — and retailers know it. According to Environment Virginia, $13.6 billion is spent on recreation associated with the forest, contributing to the existence of 138,200 jobs in the state and $3.9 billion in wages.

    “The George Washington, Shenandoah Valley and Potomac recreation corridor provide spectacular outdoor recreation opportunities,” Gregory Miller, American Hiking Society president said in a press release. “Fracking is shortsighted and would permanently impair the natural and cultural heritage and beauty of Virginia for current and future generations.”

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