U.S. Forest Service Should Ban Fracking in All National Forests, Now
The Big Picture, by Glynn Wilson
Alabama Sierra Club Political Chair
A proposal within the U.S. Forest Service to ban fracking in all national forests should be adopted by the Obama administration and codified into American law by Congress to make it permanent.
After a plan to open up the Talladega National Forest to gas drilling with the potential for hydraulic fracturing was withdrawn, the new front line in the national fracking fight has moved to the George Washington National Forest in west central Virginia, where a story in early September in the Washington Post reports that by the end of September, a decision is expected by the Forest Service on whether to allow or ban the controversial method of drilling under the new 15-year Forest Management Plan. However, that revised plan has now been delayed and will not be available until later this fall.
It is clear that an internal battle is being waged in the federal government over this economic and environmental issue and the use of a relatively new technology for energy production on federal land.
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While President Obama himself has publicly favored ramping up domestic energy production on all fronts, he has also vowed that his administration will do this in a responsible manner and decisions will be made on the basis of the best available science and in the public interest, taking into account the impacts of all forms of energy production on the overriding issue of global warming and climate change.
While it may be appropriate in some places on private land for fracking to be used to get at the Marcellus Shale, the destructive nature of the practice should never be allowed on public land in nature preserves such as national forests.
There are a number of influences coming to bear in this ongoing battle. From theWashington Post‘s reporting, it is clear that certain pro-big business elements within the Republican Party were responsible for stopping the ban on fracking from going into effect, led by Virginia’s Governor Robert F. McDonnell.
On the other side, a number of career employees of the Forest Service have formed a group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. On their independent Website in a post entitled Unregulated Hydrofracking, the group concludes that the Forest Service and other federal agencies “have addressed public concerns haphazardly.”
“Most national forest management plans lack any direction regarding fracking, because the practice was not an identifiable issue when the plans were written,” the group says. “Lack of cohesive federal policy has resulted in the promulgation of inconsistent regulatory mechanisms at the state level.”
This is no way to run a government, especially one still trying to recover from eight years of industry dominated policies under the Bush-Cheney regime of “drill, baby, drill” and deregulation, which of course led to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico when BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010 and unleashed nearly 5 million barrels, almost 206 million gallons, of crude into the coastal environment.
We cannot afford for something like this to happen in our national forests. This is not only understood and addressed in the public comments on the part of national conservation groups like The Sierra Club. Even the Corps of Engineers and water service agencies are opposing any plan to allow fracking in the Washington, D.C. area in Virginia.
It is our contention that elements within the federal bureaucracy who are trying to fight to do the right thing should be supported editorially by the news media and by members of the public, which includes non-profit conservation groups.
Therefore we hereby applaud the employees who are willing to fight to do the right thing, and repudiate any politician who stands with the oil and gas industry’s greedy, short-term, short-sighted drive to “drill, baby, drill” at all costs.
President Obama will never have to stand for re-election again. His place in history is assured. But like any politician, he needs to feel the heat from those who are bringing pressure to bear to do the right thing for the country in the long-term. And he needs to feel the support from those who have his back to do the right thing when it comes to protecting our national treasure.
It might be worth re-screening the Ken Burns' documentary "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" (http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/) in the White House about now. Would somebody send Michelle Obama a copy and talk her into doing this? Remember, Burns called the national parks “America’s Best Idea.” If you think he was right, send a comment to President Obama.