The George Washington National Forest is home to the headwaters of the Potomac and James Rivers, which flow through two capital cities, Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va. One of the largest forests in the eastern U.S., it’s more known for its rolling hills blanketed with trees than it is for energy potential. But natural gas drilling, along with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be coming to this wild forest.The U.S. Forest Service originally disallowed horizontal drilling and fracking for natural gas within the George Washington National Forest boundaries. However, after pushback from the natural gas industry, the Forest Service began reconsidering. Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and companies do not have to disclose what chemicals they are using in the fluid pumped underground to bring gas to the surface. Some of the chemicals used in the fracking process could contaminate drinking water for many communities and poison some of the GW’s most celebrated rivers for fishing and paddling.We tend to confuse our national forests with our national parks, thinking of them as pristine and unspoiled lands that are protected from commercial usage. But national forests are often subject to the same uses as private land, from cattle grazing to coal mining. Traditionally the most common commercial activity on national forests in the East was logging. Then, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, nearly all national forest lands in the East were leased for gas and oil drilling. Most attempts at conventional drilling came up dry. The gas deposits were too hard to get at using then-known methods. When energy prices began to fall, drilling for natural gas in the East no longer made economic sense.Fast forward 40 years. America finds itself caught in a perpetual energy crisis. Politicians once again want the fuel under our feet, and public lands are seen as our salvation. New forms of drilling have now put the oil and gas resources beneath the Eastern public lands within reach. Much of the region’s drinking water comes from sources with headwaters in protected national forestlands. Will your drinking water soon be laced with fracking chemicals? Will your favorite forest campground or trail soon become a wasteland of wells, towers, and toxic ponds?Fracking 101America’s 21st Century shale gas boom has thrust hydraulic fracturing into the spotlight. “Hydrofracking,” as the process is known, is a catch-all term for a complex two-part method of natural gas extraction.It starts with horizontal drilling. A well bore is drilled vertically for several thousand feet before turning horizontally and continuing for several thousand more. A water and chemical mix is then pumped into the well bore at high pressure. The fluid breaks up the shale rock and releases pockets of natural gas trapped there. Much of the fluids return to the surface and the “flow back” must be kept in containment ponds or hauled off site; the rest seeps into the groundwater.The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1950s for making conventional vertical wells for oil, gas, and even water. The difference today are new horizontal drilling techniques and the massive amounts of water used—up to one million gallons of water per drilling site. Mixed with the water are toxic cocktail of chemicals—many of which are carcinogenic.Drilling supporters say the process is nearly 50 years old and has been proven safe in many communities in the Midwest. Opponents point to known cases of groundwater contamination and spills, saying fracking threatens water supplies throughout the Southeast.One thing is certain: fracking brings a large-scale industrial operation into wild lands. Roads must be constructed for the trucks that haul in fracking water, and pipelines are built to transport the gas to processing sites. A well pad, including its containment ponds, can cover up to 10 acres. When underway the operation, with its associated noise, light, and traffic, happens around the clock.“The footprint of fracking is larger in scale and more disruptive than logging,” says Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “With logging, the forest regenerates, and in 100 years the trees will have grown back. But with gas drilling there is a permanent well pad in a permanent clearing.” Fracking usually involves many well sites and a much larger cumulative impact that leaves behind poisonous ponds, toxic waters, and a ruined landscape.Click for larger imagePublic Lands, Private ProfitsWho determines if gas drilling takes place in a national forest near you? First, an energy company requests to lease certain national forest lands from the Department of Agriculture, which manages the national forests. The Department of Agriculture then places the land up for competitive bid on a quarterly basis. Anyone can place a bid and the winning bidder gets a 10-year lease to explore for oil and gas. If they discover reserves, they apply for another lease and an extended permit. The government gets a small percent of the profit from the gas extracted.The Southeastern natural gas boom exists in areas that sit over top of the Marcellus shale beds, which include Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. There are also known gas reserves in the Conasauga shale bed in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the Marcellus shale alone contains 262 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.There are approximately 8 million acres of public land in 17 national forests in the Southeast. Fracking has already occurred in two of these forests and is proposed for at least two more.Pennsylvania has been ground zero in the Eastern fracking debate, sitting on top of the thickest part of the Marcellus formation. The Allegheny National Forest contains 500,000 acres and is home to more than 12,000 gas and oil wells.West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest’s 921,000 acres are open to drilling; a test well was drilled there recently in the Fernow Experimental Forest. And last year, Alabama’s Talladega National Forest announced that it would lease 43,000 acres for gas drilling.The biggest concern is George Washington National Forest. At over one million acres, the GW is one of the largest undeveloped areas on the East Coast. Recently, the Forest Service began revising its management plan for the GW. Fracking opponents pushed for a prohibition on horizontal drilling in the forest. This was included in a draft of the plan before political and industry pressure forced to it be dropped.“We developed options to allow horizontal drilling on forest land,” said Ken Landgraf, planning officer for George Washington National Forest. “Part of our job is to develop America’s energy resources responsibly.”All national forests are administered by a management plan that is revised every 10 to 15 years. The GW is the first to come up for revision since fracking became prevalent. All eyes are on the GW.“We are in the driver’s seat,” Landgraf stated.A finalized management plan for the GW is scheduled to be announced this month. Meanwhile, other national forests are beginning to revise management plans, and fracking could be a major issue. Two of the most popular national forests in the Southeast—the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in North Carolina—are revising their management plans this year.Areas of privately held mineral rights occur in all of the national forests. Ninety-three percent of the land in the Allegheny National Forest has its mineral rights in the hands of private companies. In the GW, 180,000 acres, or about 17 percent of the total land, has its mineral rights in private hands. Seven percent of the Talladega’s and 38 percent of the Monongahela’s acres have privately held mineral rights.When the Forest Service tried to prevent drilling on these leases, they quickly ran into legal challenges. In 2011 a federal appeals court ruled that the Forest Service was misinterpreting its powers and had no authority to control access to private minerals on public lands.“Companies have rights to their minerals [on private leases] and we cannot stop them,” Landgraf says. “But they do have to work with us [the Forest Service] jointly because they are using our surface.”David and Goliath: Communities Take on Big GasWith political will and industry money pushing for gas drilling in the national forests, what options do people who enjoy public lands and oppose fracking have?In 2011 Carrizo Energy, a Houston-based company, applied for a drilling permit for a lease on private land in Rockingham County in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The state quickly approved the permit. The county board of supervisors also seemed on the verge of signing off on the project. Then outdoor enthusiasts and local residents learned about the proposed well. They launched a campaign to educate the board and the community on the potential hazards of fracking. They were successful. The board tabled the permit, effectively preventing fracking on private lands in the county, which would include private mineral rights in the George Washington National Forest in Rockingham County.Then in 2012, when Alabama’s Talladega National Forest announced it would sell fracking leases, outdoor enthusiasts vocally opposed it. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed litigation under the Endangered Species Act, and in June 2012, the Forest Service announced it would delay the gas lease sale.It’s hard to say whether environmentalists won an outright victory or energy companies backed away from a fight in areas where gas production was uncertain. Nearby test wells in both areas failed to produce up to expectation. One thing is for sure: as the price of energy increases, supplies of petroleum dwindle, and technology improves, energy companies will keep the national forests of the Southeast in their crosshairs.Wanna find out the latest news on fracking plans for the George Washington National Forest? Visit protectthegw.org.
US sanctions on Russian tycoon…potentially devastating blow to industry – JagdeoAs the United States (US) sanctions against Russian business tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who is the main owner of the EN+ conglomerate, which is the co-owner of Rusal begins to sink in, the local operation in Guyana has significantly scaled back on its exportation of bauxite. This is according to President of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU) Lincoln Lewis.Lincoln LewisRusal is one of the largest aluminum producers in the world and has operations here in Guyana in the form of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), employing over 500 persons. According to reports, the sanctions against Rusal have caused aluminum prices to surge since the sanctions freeze all of the company’s assets under the US jurisdiction.Lewis, in a telephone interview on Saturday with Guyana Times said the Union is still analysing the implications of the sanctions in the Guyana context and would be requesting a meeting with the Natural Resources Minister in the coming days.“We have to make an assessment of how the sanctions will impact Guyana as a country and the effect it will have on Rusal’s operations here. We are monitoring the operations of Rusal and what we do know is Rusal has virtually scaled back on their shipment of bauxite out of Guyana,” Lewis said.“We have to continue to analyse the situation and right now we will be seeking a meeting with the Government. As a matter of fact, on Monday we will be dispatching a letter to the Ministry (of Natural Resources) to have a meeting with the Minister and see how we will move forward,” Lewis added.When contacted, a senior manager at Rusal again said they are yet to receive word from their Moscow Headquarters as it relates to their operations but did confirm the company has scaled back on its exportation of bauxite.Devastating blowMeanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo at a press briefing on Friday said a “potentially devastating blow” could be dealt to the bauxite workers, particularly those in the Berbice River area.“We are talking about over 900 people who may be depending on how the issues go and from what I understand it is really those jobs that are all seriously threatened, and this is because of the consequences of the US sanctions on Rusal. So many of the companies with which they are engaging, particularly the transhipment company have already signalled reluctance to continue to service the operations,” he said.“Our Government is silent on it. Our President would fly off to London and leave the fate of thousands in uncertainty, so it would affect New Amsterdam as well as the Berbice River and all of Region 10,” Jagdeo added.Meanwhile, Oldendorff Carriers, which handles the shipping logistics for Rusal has reportedly given noticed to withdraw its service as a result of the sanction. Oldendorff Carriers is located in the Berbice River. However, the company has recently announced that transshipment arrangements with Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc remains intact.Deripaska has also been charged in US special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation regarding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 US presidential election.Last week, the US Treasury Department announced the sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies they either owned or controlled and 17 senior Government officials, who Washington said were profiting from the Russian Government’s engagement in “a range of malign activities” around the world.The Treasury Department warned that US entities would be “generally prohibited” from dealings with the persons and firms on the sanctions list, while added that companies outside the United States could face sanctions for “knowingly facilitating significant transactions for or on behalf of” the sanctioned entities.The US Government’s decision to include Deripaska on its sanctions blacklist will reverberate around the world because his business empire has a global footprint and counts major multinationals as partners.Deripaska, estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $6.7 billion, is the main owner of the conglomerate EN+, which in turn is the co-owner of some of the world’s biggest metals producers – Rusal and Nornickel.Deripaska’s inclusion on the US sanctions list could potentially create complications too for companies with which he does business; including German car giant Volkswagen and commodities trader Glencore.Rusal had said it regretted its inclusion on the US sanctions list, adding that its advisors were studying the situation. Hong Kong-listed Rusal is one of the world’s biggest aluminium producers. It says exports to the United States account for over 10 per cent of its output.Rusal owns assets in Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Nigeria, Guyana and Guinea. It owns a stake in Australian QAL, the world’s top alumina refinery.
SIMI VALLEY – While every candidate at the first Republican presidential debate Thursday night jockeyed to become the political heir to President Reagan’s legacy, John McCain showed why he may be the spiritual heir in Nancy Reagan’s heart. Moments after the debate, as he removed his wireless microphone from inside his suit jacket behind the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Arizona senator noticed a shiny dime on the floor. He bent down for a closer look, then kept walking past the coin. The dime was lying heads down, and picking up coins that are tails up is a no-no for McCain. “Am I superstitious? I’m that,” McCain said, walking with his wife, Cindy, and entourage to the candidates’ reception. “But I don’t think I’m alone there.” At the Reagan Library, McCain, who says he has been superstitious since he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had come to the right place. In his 1965 autobiography, Reagan admitted he was superstitious and read syndicated horoscopes, and Nancy said she did, too. The former president observed such superstitions as always putting a lucky coin and gold charm in his pocket each morning, knocking on wood, never walking under ladders and tossing salt over his left shoulder when he spilled some. Not surprisingly, Reagan cast a long shadow in the debate where his name and character were mentioned often by each candidate – and the shadow loomed just as big afterward in the “Spin Room” where high-profile supporters of each candidate sought to “spin” the debate in their favor. Bill Simon, the one-time California gubernatorial candidate, stumped for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and how he typified the traits of Reagan. “Mayor Giuliani demonstrated that he has the strength to lead the country in the best tradition of Ronald Reagan,” said Simon, speaking to reporters in a noisy large room packed with spin-meisters of each candidate surrounded by microphones, recorders and cameras. Selling candidates In almost every instance, it was not just one spin-meister for a candidate but several of them. Some, such as Simon, were politicians. But others were political consultants and advisers working for those candidates. Each of the spinners was shadowed by an anonymous staffer holding up high a printed poster identifying the spinner and his affiliation. In some instances, you had the candidates themselves selling how well they had done, as in the case of Texas congressman Ron Paul doing every local television interview he could to heighten his name recognition, which undoubtedly took a big jump with the debate. For his part, Giuliani looked like a prizefighter proclaiming victory immediately after a bout. In the men’s room behind the stage, Giuliani smiled as he received pats on the back and words of congratulations. “I did well, if I say so myself,” he said. Giuliani and the other candidates were all headed after the debate to a celebratory dinner hosted by Nancy Reagan, who was escorted there – as she was into the debate hall – by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Several invited guests said that while they had been pleased with the debate, the show-stopper may have been the Reagan Library itself. With its presidential history and its hilltop views of the Ventura County mountainsides, it symbolized Ronald Reagan Country and the hold it has on the locals. Steve Grindley, 31, of Simi Valley has been an executive chef with the food company that caters all events at the library, and he has been a regular at these functions since its opening. “They’ve all been great, but the best event, without a doubt, was President Reagan’s funeral,” Grindley said. “There were senators and heads of other countries, and you were seeing an American president laid to rest. “It was part of history.” No true winner Back in the Spin Room, the selling of the candidates went on. Most spin-meisters acknowledged that in a debate with so many candidates, declaring a true winner was impossible. No candidate had made a monumental goof, and they all defended the hard-line positions the candidates took on such issues as Roe v. Wade and immigration. Spin-meisters for the top-tier candidates – Giuliani, McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – said their respective men had handled themselves well. “The governor showed himself to be not only knowledgeable but specific on the issues, especially on foreign affairs,” Missouri Sen. Jim Talent said. McCain’s handlers were even more enthusiastic in talking about the former POW and his own passionate vow to chase after Osama bin Laden. “John McCain has committed to leaving no stone unturned in fighting terrorism,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the country’s first Homeland Security secretary. “As he said in the debate, he will follow bin Laden to the gates of hell.” The only awkward moment in the Spin Room came when the sensitive issue close to Nancy Reagan’s heart – support of embryonic stem cell research – came up. Moderator Chris Mathews had raised the subject with each candidate during the debate. Only McCain pledged his unqualified support. “Will that come back to haunt the other candidates?” spin-meister Simon said rhetorically to the question in the Spin Room. “I wouldn’t think so.” Meanwhile, away in the dining area, guess who Nancy Reagan saved the biggest hug for. [email protected] (818) 713-3761160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!