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The Fernow Experimental Forest

Private Mineral Extraction on Public Lands

Berry Energy began consulting with the Forest Service on plans to frack a conventional gas well on the Fernow Experimental Forest (part of the Monongahela National Forest run by the Northeast Research Center) in West Virginia in 2008.  The company owns the minerals beneath the federal lands. 

U.S. Forest Service scientists at the Fernow in Parsons tried in vain to prevent the gas drilling and pipeline project that threatened an underground cave system that shelters endangered bats, created toxic runoff, and damaged long-term forest ecology research plots -- according to agency records released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Forest Service leaders rebuffed its specialists’ efforts to moderate project impacts on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and even blocked attempts to obtain advice from agency lawyers.  Flow back water from the drilling was land applied to the forest where it killed trees and shrubs. 

On September 4, 2009, with last year's drill pit sites still oozing toxic water into the Fernow Experimental Forest, the US Forest Service approved a second request to do deeper drilling on the same site.  Under the Forest Service-approved permit, the same toxic drilling fluids was injected again next to an endangered bat cave -- with the same "land application" of drilling pit fluids. 

PEER asked the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General to review what occurred during 2008 on the Fernow Experimental Forest, which include: Decisions to evade Endangered Species Act consultation rules despite reports that the drilling may be harming Big Springs Cave, one of the largest winter hibernacula of the endangered Indiana bat on public land;  Refusal to address ponds of toxic drill pit fluids that threaten wildlife and killed vegetation; Blocking requests for guidance from the agency Office of General Counsel to sort through complex resource issues instead of acceding to each industry request, no matter how damaging.  See additional documents from objecting scientists, photos and a report from the Forest Service.  More at peer.org or http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2009/03/11/gas-drilling-divides-another-national-forest/