The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Finding the Balance on Fracking

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 21, 2014

Credit the U.S. Forest Service for adopting a revised plan for the George Washington National Forest that will allow safe and responsible energy development using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

As others said of the plan, science won out in the sense that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling can be conducted safely while protecting the forest itself as well as the watershed within it. Michael Ward, Virginia Petroleum Council executive director:

“The success of domestic natural gas production depends on our ability to produce energy from shale through hydraulic fracturing, and the industry is committed to ensuring that it will continue to be employed in a safe and responsible manner. Natural gas is an enormously versatile fuel that helps power our nation’s economy. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is helping to unlock the tremendous economic and job creation benefits that Virginians, and all Americans, need and want.”

The Forest Service said the new management plan will allow potential development on about 10,000 acres where there are existing valid oil and natural gas leases and also 167,200 acres with existing private mineral rights. The Forest Service said the plan will provide a “comprehensive, balanced strategy for energy development consistent with other resource values, including for wind and oil and gas.” The service said it also will assure water quality with increased streamside protections; improve wildlife habitat, healthy forests and local economic opportunity with prescribed fire and timber harvest; and enhance and protect recreation opportunities. Southern Regional Forester Ken Arney:

“This forest plan provides a balance of management direction that addresses both the long-term ecological sustainability of the George Washington National Forest, as well as the long-term social and economic needs of those that depend on or are impacted by the Forest.”

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in approximately 1,800 wells in Southwest Virginia since 1950. More than 5,600 coal bed methane wells are producing natural gas by hydraulic fracturing or other extraction methods in the commonwealth. Operations that utilize hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling support more than 18,000 jobs in Virginia and this number is projected to rise to more than 38,000 in 2035, according to a study by IHS. Ward:

“The industry is creating jobs throughout the supply chain in Virginia and throughout the country that pay about double the average salary for all industries. Thanks to innovations in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, America’s potential as an energy superpower is growing, and businesses of all types in the Commonwealth are growing with it.”

The Forest Service decision coincides with new research in the Northern Plains oil patch that found no early evidence of contamination from more than 8,500 wells drilled. The U.S. Geological Survey study was the first region-wide assessment of shallow groundwater quality in the Bakken and Three Forks oil formations in North Dakota and Montana. The Associated Press reports:

“This is good news, really good news,” USGS hydrologist Rod Caldwell said of the initial results. “But we didn’t try to just sample domestic water wells close to oil and gas wells. We tried to look at the overall health of the aquifer.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.