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Local advocate addresses panel at D.C. hearing
By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A local advocate for rural living offered the opinion of Shenandoah County's governing body during a congressional oversight hearing Friday morning focused on the U.S. Forest Service's proposal to ban horizontal drilling in the George Washington National Forest.
Kate Wofford, executive director of the Luray-based Shenandoah Valley Network, was among the witnesses who testified in front of the two subcommittees that sponsored the hearing, including the agriculture committee's subgroup on conservation, energy and forestry, of which Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, is a member.
In the preferred alternative of its draft management plan -- there is currently a public comment period ongoing to see if other options are more popular -- the Forest Service seeks a ban on horizontal drilling and its associated hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on land where the government owns both the surface and mineral rights. Fracking separates natural gas from rock, and is a process many residents and local officials say would taint the area's water supply because of the depth of the drilling and millions of gallons of water used.
However, subcommittee members have concerns with agency jurisdiction and decisions that would restrict the ability of the Forest Service to contribute to meeting the nation's energy demands, according to testimony from Joel Holtrop, the deputy chief of the National Forest System. Also, the practice provides "significant" benefit to development by reducing the footprint of oil and gas production and allowing for directional drilling to leave undisturbed areas of environmental concern, the hearing's website states.
The website, which includes all testimony and should have video of the hearing posted today, is naturalresources.house.gov.
Wofford spoke on behalf of the valley's elected officials, including the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors. It passed a resolution asking the Forest Service to ban hydraulic fracturing, citing the number of Strasburg and Woodstock residents who get their water from the forest.
The Forest Service, in its preferred plan, bans horizontal drilling on public lands but would allow more conventional vertical natural gas drilling. Approximately half of the 1.1 million-acre forest is atop the Marcellus shale formation.
In her testimony, Wofford said 13 local governing bodies passed resolutions asking the Forest Service to manage public drinking water and supply, with five specifically seeking the ban or a moratorium on horizontal drilling.
"[T]he Valley's local governments and private sector have been investing for generations in traditional rural land uses based on its extraordinary natural, historic and cultural resources: farming, forestry, tourism and recreation," Wofford said, according to a written copy of her testimony. "They have no history of, or strategy for, economic development based on heavy energy development on rural lands.
"In fact, local governments and the farm community have concerns that horizontal drilling is incompatible with the investments made in our region's traditional rural sectors and could actually do more harm than good."
Late Friday afternoon, Goodlatte said while he shared local concerns about water quality, he thought the Forest Service's preferred alternative needed to be tweaked and that the agency needed to consider all of the consequences of implementing a ban. He said a consistent policy should be the goal, pointing to the fact that 180,000 acres of private land could still be used for horizontal drilling, and that hydraulic fracking could be used as part of vertical drilling in the draft plan.
"It's an issue where, I think, we want to make sure the Forest Service is using the very best technology and regulatory oversight to make sure we don't have any bad experiences," Goodlatte said.