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Possibility of Fracking in GW National Forest Creates Debate - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Possibility of Fracking in GW National Forest Creates Debate

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George Washington National Forest George Washington National Forest

The debate over natural gas drilling has hit the Shenandoah Valley - namely the George Washington National Forest. Park site managers are considering allowing fracking in the forest.

Environmentalists say that fracking would threaten public safety and destroy the natural beauty of the forest, while the oil and gas industry says this is safe and would help the American economy. It's an issue involving many parties saying very different things.

"We're concerned about this because of the many impacts that gas drilling and hydrofracking can have on the forest's special, and in many ways unique, values," said Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Many are debating how to handle the possibility of fracking coming to the area. Environmentalists believe it would have disastrous effects.

"There have been anumber of very well-documented instances in other parts of the country where gas drilling has caused contamination of drinking water supplies," said Francisco.

Add to that a change of scenery and noises in the forest.

"There are a lot of concerns about how this could affect recreation on the forest, the forest water resources, fish and wildlife habitat as well as just the scenic and natural beauty of the forest," said Francisco.

Park officials say they're still deciding whether they will put a ban in place on the drilling, or lease some land to energy companies.

"It's kind of wide open what we can look at and we've been looking at all those options," said Ken Landgraf, a planning staff officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

Last month, the American Petroleum Institute made a presentation to the Augusta County Board of Supervisors. Oil and gas industry experts say it would not be a risky procedure, and there are many benefits.

"We are able to move forward in a balanced approach where we are able to secure all the significant benefits for development and ensure that we are protecting the public and our workers and the environment," said Erik Milito, upstream director at the American Petroleum Institute.

Fracking advocates say it would bring jobs to the area and safety could be ensured with multiple layers of steel casing and cement to seal off the wells - but environmentalists think differently. 

"We also need to recognize that some places are just not appropriate for this kind of drilling and gas development and the George Washington National Forest is really one of those," said Francisco.

Park site managers are still reviewing the information and will likely release the new site plan in September. That plan will be in place for the next 10 to 15 years.

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