Virginia Petroleum Council On GWNF Management Plan

The biggest item of interest in the recently released management plan for the George Washington National Forest was the decision to limit oil and gas exploration on the forest’s 1.1 million acres. These activities will only be allowed on the 10,000 acres in Highland County which are currently under lease, and the 170,000 acres across spread across the entire forest area where the Forest Service does not control the mineral rights. The methods used to extract any resources found could include the controversial hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

Michael Ward, Executive Director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, applauded the decision to allow for future exploration.

“Our big concern was that, this being a fifteen year plan, that the Forest Service might completely slam the door to any possibility for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in areas that might show some potential. There’s a significant portion of the million acre forest that’s set aside to not allow on the gas drilling, and that’s understandable. It is a natural forest, and there’s other interests – timber harvesting, wildlife wilderness zones, recreational zones. But at the same time, where you have existing federal leases, and existing mineral rights, it seems only fair to allow the opportunity for, someday in the future, perhaps, the new technology that grows may allow for exploring that zone.”

Mr. Ward addressed the fact that there was little interest at this time in local exploration.

“Honestly, there’s so much activity in neighboring states in the Marcellus shale region, that’s where all the interest and activity is right now. We only have a very small sliver of the Marcellus shale that reaches into Virginia. There were about five wells that were drilled in the George Washington National Forest between 1970 and the year 2000. They were dry holes, basically, they did not show any kind of commercial or production capability.”

Mr. Ward was asked to comment on the safety of hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

“One thing I think it is important to relay, and have people understand, the hydraulic fracturing process, in the total life of a well that’s drilled and produced, which could run 40 or 50 years, the hydraulic fracturing is done over two or three days, and that’s it, you don’t do it anymore. You allow that resource to flow, the natural gas to come up through the well pipe based on that particular fracturing. If there’s a permit for a particular area in the George Washington National Forest, it’s going to follow very carefully any kind of state and federal requirements to protect groundwater, and I’m sure those are going to be heavily overseen by all the state laws and regulations that will apply.”

Mr. Ward suggested a resource for those wanting to learn more about fracking and horizontal drilling.

“There’s a really good website for more information called, and a lot more details are available for the listeners that are really interested in that.”

Stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio for environmental reaction to the management plan.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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