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Chairman Doug Lamborn: U.S. Forest Service draft plan essentially closes George Washington National Forest to safe energy development

July 12, 2011

The Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry joined with the Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to hold a joint hearing on "Challenges facing Domestic Oil and Gas Development: Review of Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Ban on Horizontal Drilling on Federal Lands."

Doug Lamborn (CO-05)

The panel heard from a number of experts regarding the U.S. Forest Service's proposed ban of horizontal drilling in the George Washington National Forest, as well as the Interior Departments' potential regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. Horizontal drilling provides significant benefits to resource development by reducing the footprint of oil and gas production and leaving surface areas of environmental concern undisturbed.

The Marcellus Shale, one of the nation's largest shale gas plays, underlies 50% of the George Washington National Forest. Witnesses testified about the safety of hydraulic fracturing when paired with horizontal drilling and the job creation associated with natural gas production on our public lands.

"Through effective management practices, we have successfully produced these resources for decades, while protecting our environment. Knowing of our need for affordable and reliable energy, I am extremely concerned about the Forest Service's proposal to ban horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest," said Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry Chairman Glenn 'GT' Thompson (PA-05). "Not only does this proposal undermine the Forest Service's mission of multiple-use, it comes at a time when we are becoming more dependent on foreign sources and as the Federal government continues to stymie development of our own natural resources."

"This plan as proposed by the Administration would essentially close the entire Forest to a safe and efficient means of energy development, eliminate a key priority in the multiple use mission of forest service lands, and further erode our efforts to generate domestic energy security," said Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-05). "The Forest Service as a custodian of our lands has an obligation to work with a multiple use mission, to serve the people of Virginia and the United States by promoting the conservation of our resources, which undeniably includes the development of appropriate oil and gas resources on Forest Lands."

Maureen Matsen, Deputy Director of Natural Resources and Senior Advisor on Energy for the Commonwealth of Virginia reminded the panel that Virginia's "natural gas production has meant more than $2 billion in capital investment, $360 million in royalties, $150 million in severance taxes paid...and more than 3000 jobs." She went on to note that while "there have been no documented instances of surface water or groundwater degradation from facing in Virginia," the proposed Forest Service ban would "harm Virginia, and Virginians by burdening businesses and preventing job growth" and "undermine the nation's energy security by placing domestic resources out of reach at a time when the global competition for energy resources is rapidly increasing."

Adding to the chorus of critics to the Forest Service's proposed ban was Pennsylvania General Energy's General Counsel, Craig L. Mayer who testified about a 2009 Settlement Agreement between the Forest Service and the Sierra Club that would have blocked 513,000 acres in the Allegheny National Forest. The Settlement was later overturned by a judge but Mayer said, "if it remained in force, it would have had an irrevocable, profound, massive, and devastating adverse impact on oil and gas production activity in the ANF and upon the economy, communities, and people of the surrounding region dependent on this development activity."

Lee Fuller, Vice President of Government Relations with the Independent Petroleum Association of America commented on the on the proven safety of hydraulic fracturing noting, "with about one million operating oil and natural gas wells in the United States, tens of thousands being drilled annually and only a small number of problem incidents, it is clear that the process is sound and effective."

David Miller, Standards Director of the American Petroleum Institute reminded the panel that "the great majority of hydraulic fracturing activities take place at depths far below existing groundwater sources that could reasonable be considered underground sources of drinking water."

 

Markey Statement on Hydro-Fracking at Oversight Hearing

Opening Statement,

As Prepared for Delivery

Ranking Member Edward J. Markey

Energy and Mineral Resources and Agriculture Joint Subcommittee Oversight Hearing:

“Challenges facing Domestic Oil and Gas Development: Review of Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Ban on Horizontal Drilling on Federal Lands”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thank you Chairman Hastings.

Recent advancements in natural gas drilling technologies have unlocked natural gas supplies in shale and other unconventional formations across the country leading to a significant expansion of natural gas production, including on BLM managed public lands. Currently 90% of all new wells on public lands are hydraulically fractured.

To explain the hydraulic fracturing process, Talisman Energy Corporation came up with a cartoon coloring book that follows the friendly FRACK-A-SAURUS named “Talisman Terry” through the natural gas drilling process. The loveable dinosaur playfully promotes the benefits of natural gas and paints a picture of a magical world filled with smiling rocks and grinning animals. The problem is that unless you are a “FRACK-A-SAURUS” named “Talisman Terry,” this world doesn’t exist. For communities around this country the expansion of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing has meant contamination of water supplies, loss of property value, deteriorating health conditions, dead livestock, and destruction of pristine forest and agricultural lands.

A recent series of investigative reports in the New York Times have highlighted some of the potential risks of natural gas drilling and inconsistent efforts to regulate this booming industry.

For example, the Times reported that wastewater from hydraulic fractured wells is often contaminated with toxic heavy metals, highly corrosive salts, cancer causing chemicals such as benzene, and radioactive elements. A large amount of this wastewater is disposed in municipal sewage treatment plants that are not capable of removing the contaminants. This wastewater discharge can also enter into local waterways as was the case in Pennsylvania, 3 months ago, when equipment failure caused tens of thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water to spew out of the well and into a nearby creek.

These fluids are so toxic that a study by Forest Service researchers, published earlier this week, found that when fracturing fluids were spilled in the forest they killed all plants and trees in the area.

Without proper oversight, the disposal of drilling wastewater poses threats to agricultural lands, aquatic life and human health, particularly when public drinking water systems rely on waterways where waste is being discharged.

To further cloud the problem, the oil and gas industry enjoy exemptions or exclusions from key parts of at least 7 of the 15 major federal environmental laws designed to protect public health, air and water, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Many of these companies have also refused to disclose the contents of their fracturing fluids.

A century ago, Rep. Weeks of Massachusetts guided into law the landmark legislation that allowed the lands that make up the George Washington National Forest to be purchased from private individuals. This protected forestland is habitat for hundreds of animals, drives tourism for the local economy, and provides a safe source of drinking water to almost 300,000 local residents. Even more so, although this forest is located in Virginia, it protects the source of water that feeds our faucets right here in Washington, DC.

While horizontal drilling has never occurred in the George Washington National Forest expansion of these technologies without adequate safety and oversight could threaten natural resources and has the potential to turn stretches of forest into lifeless dunes--An environment that would only support the imaginary Terry the FRACK-A-SAURUS .

While the discovery of new gas resources creates a domestic energy and economic opportunity, we must ensure that this exploration and production for natural gas is done safely and responsibly and leaves us with a forest full of trees for another century and not a chemical wasteland.

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