National Forest in Virginia, W.Va. to allow some fracing after all

The George Washington National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia will allow some oil and gas activity using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling under its new final forest plan, which was released in Roanoke, Va., on Nov. 18.

It includes a decision that limits availability for new leasing, while establishing a comprehensive framework for potential development on about 10,000 acres where there are existing valid leases, and on 167,200 acres with existing private mineral rights, officials said.

None of the existing leases and mineral rights within the forest are active, and no mineral development is under way on adjacent private land, they added.

“The decision does not prohibit any specific technology for developing oil and gas resources, including hydraulic fracturing,” they said. “Any proposal to develop existing leases on the Forest would undergo additional environmental analysis and provide opportunities for public comment and engagement.”

An earlier draft of the plan, which revises one developed in 1993, would have barred fracing and horizontal drilling.

The Virginia Petroleum Council in Richmond commended the US Department of Agriculture agency for its decision. “The success of domestic natural gas production depends on our ability to produce energy from shale through hydraulic fracturing, and the industry is committed to ensuring that it will continue to be employed in a safe and responsible manner,” said Executive Director Michael Ward.

“Horizontal drilling and fracing is helping to unlock the tremendous economic and job creation benefits that Virginians, and all Americans, need and want,” he added.

Ward said that fracing, which was first used commercially 65 years ago, has been used in about 1,500 southwestern Virginia wells since the 1950s, according to the commonwealth’s Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

More than 5,600 coalbed methane wells are producing gas by fracing or other extraction methods in Virginia, he said. Operations that use fracing and horizontal drilling support more than 18,000 jobs in Virginia, and a study by IHS projected this number will rise to more than 38,000 in 2035, Ward said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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