U.S. Forest Service

Tue, 2014-03-11 05:00Sharon Kelly
Sharon Kelly's picture

Fracking in Public Forests Leaves Long Trail of Damages, Struggling State Regulators

Last Wednesday, the Washington D.C. city council passed a resolution opposing fracking in the George Washington National Forest, making the nation’s capitol the third major U.S. city, after Los Angeles and Dallas, to decry the hazards of shale drilling in recent days.

The D.C. council’s resolution called on the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the forest’s headwaters of the Potomac River, the sole source of water for the nation’s capital, citing the risks of pollution and the costs of monitoring for contamination.

It is unclear whether the DC City Council vote will hold any sway in determining the actual fate of the forest. The decision whether to permit fracking there primarily rests with the U.S. Forest Service, which is currently updating its long-term management plan for the George Washington National Forest.

As the debate over shale drilling intensifies in the nation’s capitol and across the country, Pennsylvania offers useful lessons for how states have mishandled their forests. Pennsylvania has been ground zero for Marcellus shale development and roughly two thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forest land lies above the Marcellus shale, one of the largest shale plays in the U.S.

Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea recently reviewed state data on environmental violations in Pennsylvania state forests, including the 100,000-acre Loyalsock forest in the north central part of the state, a popular tourist destination and the focus of a local controversy over fracking.

What Mr. Ingraffea found highlights the hazards of drilling and demonstrates how a powerful industry can overwhelm regulators’ capacity to protect against environmental harms.

State regulators, the data revealed, have been unable to adequately keep tabs on drilling on state lands.

Over 59 percent of the Marcellus wells already drilled in the Loyalsock had never been inspected, Prof. Ingraffea found, and over a quarter of wells on state lands had no inspection reports available to the public.

Wed, 2011-07-13 19:02Carol Linnitt
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Fracking Wastes Devastate Research Forest in Virginia

Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations poses a serious threat to national forests, according to a researcher from the U.S. Forest Service. Mary Beth Adams conducted a two year study of soil and vegetation health in West Virginia after more than 75,000 gallons of fracking wastewater were applied to a portion of forest set aside for research. 

The study, appearing in the July-August issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Quality, tracks the effects of fracking wastewater on a quarter-acre section of the Fernow Experimental Forest in the Monongahela National Forest. Adams monitored the effects of the land application over a two-year period.

Within two days, the contaminated fluids had killed all ground level plant life and within 10 days began to brown the foliage of trees. Within two years all of the trees showed signs of damage and more than half of the 150 trees in the test area were dead. The study notes a dramatic 50-fold increase of sodium and chloride in surface soil after the application, but, because the chemical composition of fracking wastes is protected as proprietary information, the full contamination effects could not be studied.

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