Letter From Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson
Elkins, WV – Text Only
Dear Mr. Fleming,
Thank you for your letter of July 19th, 2011, expressing your concerns about information on fracking fluids presented in a recent article by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). I welcome the opportunity to clarify the points you raise in your letter. Further, I am happy to speak with you in person or have the Forest geologist answer questions as well.
The information you refer to in the PEER article regarding the Fernow Experimental Forest stems from a paper published in the July 19, 2011 Journal on Environmental Quality. It was written by a researcher at the Fernow Experimental Forest who studied the impacts of land applying conventional well (non-marcellus) drilling pit fluids on an area in the Fernow Experimental Forest. A copy of the paper is enclosed for your review.
Land application of drilling fluids from conventional wells in West Virginia is a common industry practice. This activity is regulated and permitted by the West Virginia DEP Office of Oil and Gas. Land application is commonly done on a piece of land of sufficient size to not result in impacts to trees or plants.
In the case referred to on the Fernow and to avoid confounding critical research, the amount of land provided was small, and in retrospect, too small for the amount of fluid being applied. As a result, the amount of chloride delivered to the small area appears to have been too high, causing the trees and ground vegetation to die. This is not a typical result. If future needs arise for the land application of drilling pit fluids on the Monongahela National Forest, the minerals specialists will continue to ensure the land base is large enough to accommodate the amount of pit fluids being proposed for application.
To assist Forest Service review and analysis of drilling proposals, we expect that operators will continue to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracture fluids as they have done in the past. The option also exists for the Forest Service to require, in many situations, or to negotiate pit fluids are trucked off to an approved disposal site. Additionally, the state of West Virginia does not allow the land application of hydraulic fracture flowback fluids from Marcellus shale well operations.
In response to your question about the Forest Service permitting horizontal drilling and related practices in the Monongahela National Forest, such practices could occur. The Forest Service has no authority to deny private oil and gas owners the right to use common and accepted industry practices to develop their mineral estate beneath National Forest land. When the oil and gas is federally owned, the Forest Service controls are limited to surface resources management and protection while the Bureau of Land Management has authority regarding downhole drilling operations. As such, the Forest Service has no authority to deny the use of horizontal drilling and related practices on the Monongahela National Forest.
The Monongahela National Forest Land & Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) allows for leasing of federally owned oil and gas and does not place any constraints on horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing. From a national perspective, the Forest Service has no policy nor does it have any plans to ban horizontal drilling and the associated hydraulic fracturing. As in the past, the Forest Service will conduct a site specific environmental analysis on each proposal to drill on a federal leasehold. The proposal would be analyzed for consistency with the Forest Plan and effects to the Forest resources, including, among other things, surface water and groundwater and plant and animal habitat before reaching a decision on proposed drilling within a federal lease. Regardless of the oil and gas ownership or the drilling practice used, the Forest Service administers the drilling operation to ensure consistency with approved drilling plans of operation.
Where oil and gas ownership is concerned, 38% of the minerals beneath the Monongahela National Forest are privately owned. In the event an owner of privately held mineral rights chooses to develop those rights, the Forest Service has a defined process to follow. The cornerstone of that process is to foster and encourage an orderly and environmentally sensitive development, and production of mineral resources through standardized inspection, monitoring, and reporting requirements. More information on the exploration and development of both federally and privately owned minerals is enclosed.
I hope this answered your questions, however, if you need more information, please don hesitate to contact me.
Clyde N. Thompson