For Immediate Release
Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337
Gas Drilling Divides Another National Forest
Damage to Endangered Bat Caves and Toxic Pits Plague Monongahela NF
WASHINGTON - U.S. Forest Service scientists tried in vain to prevent
a 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 today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Forest Service leaders,
however, 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.
PEER is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General
to review what occurred during 2008 on the Fernow Experimental Forest within
the Monongahela National Forest in Tucker County, including -
- Decisions to evade Endangered Species Act consultation rules (the
requirement recently reaffirmed by President Obama) 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 threatened
wildlife and killed vegetation;
- Blocking requests for guidance form the agency Office of General
Counsel to sort through complex resource issues instead of acceding to each
industry request, no matter how damaging.
"The Monongahela offers a textbook example of how drilling should not
be done on a national forest," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
who obtained hundreds of agency records under the Freedom of Information Act. "Unless
the Inspector General intervenes we will see more train-wrecks like what
occurred on the Monongahela when the price of natural gas begins to rise
Many of the national forests in the East, including Congressionally-mandated
wilderness areas and research forests, have privately held mineral rights.
For decades, the Forest Service had held that no environmental restrictions
apply to private extraction efforts. This stance, however, has put the agency
in the middle of litigation from both environmentalist and industry on an extensive
oil and gas drilling program on the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.
In December, the Forest Service announced that it will finally consider adopting
rules to curb abuses in drilling and mining operations.
"The reason the Forest Service keeps getting sued is that it insists
on adopting a ‘don't ask, don't tell' posture even
when the problems are patently obvious," Ruch added, noting that President
Obama pledged last week that "The work of scientists and experts in my
administration...will be respected". "If the Forest Service
is going to move forward as a science-based research agency, it is important
that the managers on this forest, the regional office and headquarters who are
responsible for this state of affairs be identified and removed."
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