Hydraulic fracturing is an oil and natural gas production technique that involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, plus chemicals and sand, underground at very high pressure in order to create fractures in the underlying geology to allow natural gas to escape. The sand is used to keep the fractures open and allow oil or gas to flow more efficiently. Hydraulic fracturing is commonly used in many types of geologic formations such as coalbeds, shale plays, and previously-drilled wells to further stimulate production.
New drilling techniques require clearing of up to 15 acres of land for well pads with extensive networks of wide roads to bring in equipment to drill, millions of gallons of water for fracking, chemicals and sand to go in the water and even housing for the crew. It is like creating a small city.
In addition a pipeline system to get the gas to market must be created. (Click for Nisource pipeline story). The fracking process requires large amounts of water from local watersheds which can never be returned to the creeks it came from because it becomes contaminated in the drilling process. It also generates contaminated “flowback” wastewater that must be disposed of. The gas drilling and fracking process can pollute rivers and streams that supply drinking water with spilled or inadequately treated chemicals or flowback, and can contaminate drinking water wells with escaped gas and potentially even with fracking fluid and chemicals, a risk that is still being studied. The drilling process creates air pollution if the methane emissions from the well are not captured.
This process creates an industrial zone in the middle of the forest that can negatively impact the recreation experience, damage pristine high mountain streams, degrade cultural resources and wildlife habitat and kill wildlife who drink contaminated water or whose populations are fragmented by the industrial site. One drilling project in the Monongahela National Forest created a bore hole through an endangered Indiana bat cave.
Oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing pose serious risks to the lands and wildlife in our national forests, to forest resources, and to the opportunities that our national forests provide the public for hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. Yet the agencies in charge of being stewards of these lands and resources are not even studying the possible negative impacts fracking could have before leasing away land for it to occur. One would think that before our publicly owned gas was leased, that the potential impacts of drilling and fracking would be studied by the Forest Service using the process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a document called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This is not happening. Local citizen involvement is needed to get the Forest Service (surface management agency) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review the specific site and the impacts that fracking could have, using the EIS procedure and after taking public comments. This must happen before any decision on whether to lease. Privately owned mineral extraction needs a similar review process but the laws to protect the national forests under these circumstances are not as strong (see Allegheny National Forest Case Study).
This Guide was written as a resource for citizens who need tools to challenge inappropriate fracking for gas on their national forest. Please contact us with questions, information on campaigns and documents from your work to share with others. We will post them to this website.