RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Wilderness Society is taking a stand against natural gas drilling in the George Washington National Forest.
In a report issued Tuesday by the conservation group, the 1.1-million-acre forest is among 12 wilderness places in the U.S. deemed "too wild to drill." The GW is primarily located in Virginia but approximately 100,000 acres are in West Virginia.
The U.S. Forest Service is expected to decide whether to allow drilling in a forest management plan due out in late August or early September.
Opponents have said a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would threaten the forest and drilling's industrial footprint — heavy equipment, trucks and well pads — would be destructive.
Fracking uses a chemical-laced fluid injected into the earth to free natural gas trapped deep underground.
The GW is the only East Coast wilderness included in the Wilderness Society report. The others are located in the West, the Plains States and Alaska. The wilderness includes forests, mesas, deserts and rangeland.
"There are many different qualities that make these places special, but they all have one thing in common: they are threatened by oil and gas drilling," the society's president, Jamie Williams, said in a statement.
A 2011 draft of the George Washington plan proposed a ban on horizontal drilling for natural gas. The proposal, however, was met with an outcry from energy industry heavyweights, who argued the drilling poses no risk to groundwater, contrary to what critics say, and is consistent with the Obama administration's energy objectives.
Environmental groups and local officials have said they are fearful the Forest Service will revise the draft and allow natural gas drilling.
The GW is the largest U.S. forest on the East Coast.
George Washington National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov/gwj
The Wilderness Society: http://www.wilderness.org