Fracking to be permitted in Virginia national forest

Federal land managers will allow the controversial hydraulic fracturing process in the East Coast’s largest national forest.

The United States Forest Service announced Tuesday that 177,000 acres of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia would be open to fracking for oil and natural gas.

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The decision came despite protests from environmentalists and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

In an attempt to compromise, the Forest Service shrunk the fracking area down from the proposed 995,000 acres. About 10,000 of the 1.1 million-acre forest is currently open to fracking.

“This is a decision about where it’s appropriate to do oil and gas,” Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Times-Dispatch. “It’s not a decision about how you do it.”

Fracking involves pumping fluids and sand into the ground at a high pressure to extract more minerals from oil or gas wells. Environmentalists warned that it could pollute the groundwater and streams that feed into drinking water supplies, including those for Richmond and Washington, D.C.

The George Washington forest is on the edge of the Marcellus Shale, which is rich in natural gas. But despite the existing leases, no company has yet drilled in the forest, the Times-Dispatch said.