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Today, a joint subcommittee oversight hearing entitled “Challenges facing Domestic Oil and Gas Development: Review of Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Ban on Horizontal Drilling on Federal Lands” was held in the House of Representatives. Republican members challenged a proposed draft management plan for the George Washington National Forest to ban horizontal oil and gas drilling, as well as Bureau of Land Management efforts to regulate drilling on public lands. 

A recent study by the Forest Service details the serious impact that drilling can have forests including the destruction of trees and other fauna.  The report concludes: “Unexpected impacts, however, were perhaps more important, and because they could not be carefully controlled or planned for, are less likely to be mitigated successfully. It is obvious that unexpected, unpredicted events will occur during such activities, and therefore land managers should consider a wide range of possible effects when analyzing impacts on natural resources.”

It is this wide range of unexpected impacts that should give land managers pause when looking at drilling in our National Forests and other public lands. There are some places where oil and gas drilling is not, and will never be, appropriate. 

The George Washington National Forest provides public drinking water to 260,000 residents in and around the Shenandoah Valley.  Given the importance of this forest to the drinking water of the surrounding areas, the proposal to ban some drilling in the forest is prudent, and supported by surrounding counties and towns.  Kate Wofford of the  Shenandoah Valley Network testified that over 40 local governments and civic organizations adopted formal resolutions urging the Forest Service to specifically manage public drinking water quality and supply. 

Communities have the right to determine whether or not drilling is right for them, and our public lands deserved to be managed in a way that protects water, air and public health. The Interior Department is also considering changes to leasing policies to make sure that drilling on public lands in the west is done right. Public lands belong to all of us and should be protected for future generations.  

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