The sleeper issue is about to awaken: Fracking in the GW National Forest

The statewide campaigns for office have generally not had to address energy development in the commonwealth, aside from the usual bromides about either “all of the above” or “sustainable.” That could change very soon, as this story from Saturday’s Daily Progress makes abundantly clear:

The U.S. Forest Service is expected in June to end two years of wrangling over whether to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the George Washington National Forest.

Debate has raged about the issue since 2011, when the service initially proposed a 15-year moratorium on fracking in the swath of largely undeveloped wilderness stretching down the spines of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains in western Virginia.

Environmental groups say fracking risks water contamination and would threaten trees in the 1.1 million-acre forest. Opponents of the ban say domestic drilling promotes energy independence and provides jobs. Between the two poles sits the forest service.

Yes, Virginia, fracking could be in your future. For folks like me, who see the economic benefits such exploration could bring, it’s a very good thing.

Not so with Virginia’s environmentalists, who view carbon-based fuels as unmitigated evils. They have issued calls for action, to stop the “frack attack” on the forest.

But aside from a smattering of online petitions to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to keep the ban on gas drilling in place (what is it with Virginia and energy bans?), the issue has yet to make its way into the statewide political races.

Perhaps Virginia’s Democratic candidates should feel relieved it hasn’t. They need only look at the civil war brewing between California environmentalists who oppose fracking in the state with Democratic politicians who see the jobs and tax revenues such development could bring. Or they could cast their gaze on New York, which “…has become ground zero for protests by anti-fracking activists, including celebrities like Yoko Ono.”

Imagine Yoko in Buffalo Gap. The mind boggles…

But with the Forest Service’s decision coming in June — the same month as the Democratic primary — and that it appears the drilling ban will be lifted, we are left to wonder what sort of effect it might have on the campaigns.

Will the Democrats be mau-maued by the environmental left into opposing fracking before the June deadline? Will Republicans seize the issue like they have with coal (nevermind uranium)?

Suddenly, there’s a sleeper issue in Virginia’s political midst. And how the candidates react will tell us a great deal about whether they genuinely care about advancing the state’s economy and our nation’s energy independence, or prefer that you to live what remains of your life shivering in the dark.

  • Valley Independent

    Augusta, Bath, Boutetourt, Rockbridge, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties have expressed concern over fracking the GW… Anybody from the Valley would know they are not the “environmental left.”

    • MD Russ


  • Vito Corleone

    One of the reasons it is difficult to have a meaningful debate on energy is that often both sides are absolutely clueless. Sadly, this goes for you too, Mr. Leahy. Yes, unfortunately, you have something in common with Yoko Ono.

    It’s not a question of whether fracking is in Virginia’s future. It is going on now and has been for decades. Granted, not on public land, but private lands in Southwest Virginia are no stranger to fracking. Do your research. It is going on now and it is going on safely.

    Drilling in the national forest is a bit of a different animal, but appropriate safeguards can and should be taken.

    • NormLeahy

      Knew about the existing drilling (it’s in the DP link above) and I completely agree that drilling in a national forest is a different animal — because of the bureaucracy involved. But unlike Yoko, I did not break up the Beatles.

  • DJRippert

    Let’s talk high voltage politics (rather than the merits of the matter). Cuccinelli should oppose this. Off year elections are all about turnout. If Cuccinelli favors fracking in a National Forest and McAuliffe opposes – McAuliffe wins the turnout battle. More environmentalists get incensed over Cuccinelli wanting to drill in a pristine National Forest than potential job holders get incensed over McAuliffe’s opposition. This is especially true because it’s in a National Forest. Cuccinelli’s best political move might be to say, “I don’t have anything against fracking – just not in National Forests.”. That keeps a lid on the environmentalist turnout and probably appears reasonable to his base. It also takes any policy advantage away from McAuliffe. T-Mac will oppose fracking in the park but then has to answer the fracking on private lands question. If he opposes fracking he loses independent voters. If he supports it, his environmentalist base stays home on election day.

    • Valley Independent

      The same can be said for uranium, though Cuccinelli appears to have already closed that door.

      • DJRippert

        True, although uranium presented considerably more problems than fracking. Fracking is pretty safe. It’s widely practiced. Electricity generated from natural gas generates about 1/2 the carbon emissions as electricity generated from coal. It will be interesting to see McAuliffe’s position on fracking outside of a National Forest.

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