Thursday 21 March 2019

Waterkeepers Chesapeake Commends The U.S. Forest Service Plan to Prohibit Fracking on George Washington National Forest Land

Waterkeepers call for a fracking prohibition on all public lands.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service released its final management plan for the 1.1 million acre George Washington National Forest, revising the 1993 plan. The plan includes the decision to make a majority of the forest unavailable for oil and gas drilling, except for a portion of the forest already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights. Waterkeepers Chesapeake is pleased that the Forest Service’s plan makes it clear that industrialized oil and gas drilling does not belong in a national forest and is not compatible with protecting the health of our natural resources and waterways.

An oil and gas company already leases about 10,000 acres within the forest and mineral rights on additional 167,000 acres are privately owned. That land will remain open for drilling. If a company wants to drill on land it leases, it must first obtain federal and state permits. A private owner of mineral rights must obtain only a state permit.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake argues that all public lands should be protected from hydraulic fracturing or fracking for natural gas and oil no matter the status of mineral rights ownership. We call upon local, state and federal officials to protect our natural resources, waterways, and local and regional economies by prohibiting fracking on all public lands. We ask that Governor McAuliffe follow up on his opposition to fracking in the national forest by denying permitting for fracking.

Fracking uses huge quantities of water and undisclosed toxic chemicals to break up shale formations deep underground to release natural gas. Fracking is exempt from key provisions of all landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and laws regulating hazardous wastes. Tens of thousands of forest acreage has karst topography made up of rock formation that can be dissolved. In these conditions, leakage of methane or toxic fracking chemicals could poison drinking water supplies.

The Forest Service finalized this plan after receiving and considering over 53,000 comments from the public and several letters of opposition to fracking in the forest from local governments and businesses, state and federal elected officials, and several public water suppliers in the Washington DC metro region. The George Washington National Forest is a direct source of local drinking water to more than 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley, and it lies in the watersheds of the James, Shenandoah, and Potomac Rivers—which ultimately provide water to over 4.5 million people downstream in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA.

The Forest is the largest federal landholding in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Local and regional governments and businesses have expressed widespread concern that opening the lands to fracking would negatively affect local economies, particularly adjacent farms and the local recreation and tourism economy, which are the economic engines of the area. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, and the national forest region provides more than two-thirds of the value of the Commonwealth’s agricultural production.

Dominion’s proposed natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline also threatens the George Washington National Forest. It is critical for the future health of our families, local rivers and streams, and public drinking water supplies that we transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewal energy sources. The demand for fracked natural gas will increase as liquefied natural gas export facilities open such as Dominion’s LNG export facility at Cove Point located on the Chesapeake Bay. Fracking benefits private oil and gas companies at the expense of our public lands, private property, waterways and communities.


For more information:

Forest Service website on GWNF plan:

SELC & Shenandoah Valley Network 11/18/2014 press statement

Food & Water Watch’s report: The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking



Waterkeepers Chesapeake generally supports much of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) proposed definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act. We particularly support the strong scientific grounding in parts of the rule that identify categories of waters that are, by definition, waters of the U.S. or that have a “significant nexus” to waters of the U.S. Waterkeepers Chesapeake urges EPA to strengthen those definitions in accordance with comments from members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (“SAB”) and as detailed in our full comments. Waterkeepers Chesapeake is also, however, very concerned about EPA’s efforts to categorically exclude a large number of waters, often with little grounding in the science and law. Waterkeepers Chesapeake believes categorical exclusions are not dictated by the statute or the case law and are likely to lead to waters being subject to pollution that should be protected. In particular, EPA’s approach to groundwater is plainly not warranted by the science as demonstrated by the many comments on this point by individual members of the SAB. Finally, Waterkeepers Chesapeake objects to EPA continuing to allow mining and coal interests to use our precious water resources as dumping grounds for their wastes through the so-called “waste treatment” exclusion from waters protected by the Clean Water Act. 

 Advocates Say New Rule to Limit Manure Represents Biggest Opportunity for Clean Water in 30 Years

(Annapolis, MD) – A Salisbury University economic study shows a new rule to better manage manure would be comparable to, or cost less than, other Chesapeake Bay pollution-reduction efforts, said a coalition of nonprofit organizations working to reduce pollution and increase transparency from agriculture. The study provided an overall cost estimate for the agricultural industry to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) using a phased-in approach, which advocates say shows the new rule is workable.

The science-based PMT would reduce pollution by limiting manure applied to farm fields already contaminated with excess phosphorus levels. The rule would improve water quality, protect public health reduce harmful algae blooms.

“Phosphorus pollution from manure is getting worse, not better in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways. If this continues, Maryland will jeopardize the decades of progress we’ve made to clean up our waters,said Joanna Diamond of Environment Maryland.

Experts say the new manure rule is one of the biggest opportunities to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters in more than 30 years.

It is past time to stop studying this issue and time to start acting,” said Bob Gallagher, of West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc. “Rarely can a single initiative achieve such huge pollution reductions in one fell swoop. The new phosphorus rule, like the phosphorus detergent ban of the 1980s, is one of those opportunities to really make a difference.”

When compared to other pollution reduction measures, the cost per pound to reduce phosphorus using the PMT is roughly on par with other investments like cover crops and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.

For example, one of the most cost effective agricultural practices is planting grass buffers on agricultural lands. Using grass buffers to reduce 48,000 pounds of phosphorus would cost about $12 million per year. Upgrades to wastewater treatment plants expected to reduce 48,000 pounds of phosphorus would cost about $14.9 million each year. According to the study, investing $3.75 million annually to implement the PMT over six years will cost $22.5 million and would reduce 228,000 pounds of chicken litter, which the Chesapeake Bay Program estimates would reduce 48,000 pounds of phosphorus annually.

In 2013, Maryland’s poultry industry made $804 million in revenue. Advocates say the industry needs to help fund pollution clean-up costs and not expect small farmers or taxpayers to pay the full tab.

“This study shows the new phosphorus rule is workable – it’s a question of finding the right way to implement it,” said Karla Raettig of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “Cleaning up waterways that suffer from manure pollution must be a top priority for everyone, including poultry processors. They need to play a greater role in the solution. Our waters, our public health and our economy depend on it.”

Advocates also cited concerns about continued delays to reduce phosphorus pollution, even as the state finalizes a renewed permit for concentrated animal feeding operations and counties approve hundreds of new, industrial-sized poultry houses on Delmarva.

“While Maryland continues to delay this much-needed rule to better manage manure, the large-scale poultry industry – and the tons of waste it produces – continue to rapidly expand,” said Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper. “It makes no sense for Maryland to produce tons more manure until we have a plan to safely handle it and protect our waters.”

A recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project showed no improvement in phosphorus levels in eight major rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore over ten years, with pollution actually worsening in the Nanticoke, the Sassafras and the Transquaking Rivers.

In June, the Baltimore Sun reported on another study that concluded phosphorus produced by the Maryland poultry industry is increasing because of larger birds that produce more waste, and that phosphorus pollution has remained unchanged in nearly two-thirds of the rivers and streams tested and worsened in 16 percent.

Maryland’s 2010 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) committed the state to updating the Phosphorus Management Tool in 2011. However, the regulations have been repeatedly delayed due to political objections from agricultural industry lobbyists and pressure from legislative leaders. A study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that failure to fully implement Maryland’s plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay would result in a $700 million annual loss.

According to BayStat, agriculture is the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways, and more than half of Maryland’s phosphorus pollution comes from farms. Phosphorus pollution causes algae blooms that threaten public health; kill underwater grasses; harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish; and create an enormous “dead zone” in the Bay.

Read a fact sheet for more information about the Phosphorus Management Tool.

Contact: Dawn Stoltzfus, The Hatcher Group, (410) 990-0824





The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition is working to improve Maryland waterways and protect public health by reducing pollution, and increasing transparency and accountability, from agriculture and other associated sources of water degradation.


Anacostia Riverkeeper – Audubon Naturalist Society – Assateague Coastal Trust – Blue Water Baltimore – Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Clean Water Action – Common Cause Maryland – Environment Maryland –League of Women Voters of Maryland – Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper – Maryland League of Conservation Voters – Maryland Pesticide Network – National Wildlife Federation, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center – Potomac Riverkeeper – Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter – South River Federation – Waterkeepers Chesapeake – West/Rhode Riverkeeper