When oil and gas reserves are discovered in sensitive locations, some activists may think they need to rush head first into a protest against the very idea of exploring the area's energy potential. Unfortunately, this often ends up limiting the opportunities for environmentalists and producers to cooperative and ensure that development is pursued safely.
Such an example seems to be playing out right now over the George Washington National Forest, which is comprised of nearly 2 million acres of woodland straddling the border between Virginia and West Virginia. Since it has become clear that the forest sits atop part of the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, activists who oppose any discussion of new oil and gas wells have been pushing for the U.S. Forest Service to preemptively ban the use of hydraulic fracturing within the forest.
Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has criticized this suggestion as an example of knee-jerk policy making that could result in overreach on the part of the federal government. According to the Washington Post, the Forest Service is expected to complete a new 15-year forest management plan by the end of September, which could prohibit the development of the underlying shale resources.
Ken Landgraf, an officer for the National Forest's planning staff, told the Post that activists' concerns center on the need to protect the numerous streams and rivers that originate in the George Washington and provide drinking water for millions of residents of Northern Virginia and the Washington area.
"If you had a pollutant anywhere in the watershed, it would be a concern," Landgraf said. "But in the headwaters, everyone would have to deal with that. Everybody's going to see that further downstream in the watershed."
Proponents of fracking have noted that natural gas is cleaner than many other energy sources and that 15 years is a long time to "slam the door" on fracking. However, if drilling is to commence in the George Washington, it's clear that the companies charged with developing the land's resources must do so responsibly. This means embracing best practices and deploying the most advanced production equipment available.
Only by setting a positive example of how conservation and development can go hand-in-hand will the industry convince skeptical stakeholders in other areas to set aside their reservations and build cooperative relationships with oil and gas producers.