The George Washington National Forest. Image courtesy of Aneta Kaluzna/Wikimedia Commons.

The federal government approved an expansion for hydraulic fracturing sites at the George Washington National Forest in central Virginia Tuesday.

The U.S. Forest Service said 167,000 acres will be available for oil and natural gas fracking, a significant cut from the initial proposal that asked for 995,000 acres to be opened up.

Drilling will only be permitted where there are existing private mineral rights, the AP said.

About 10,0000 acres in the forest are already approved for fracking.

The Forest Service wanted to ban fracking outright at the 1.1 million acre forest but industry groups pushed back to fight the plan.

The expansion plan is still subject to appeal.

George Washing Forest is the largest forest on the east coast and sits on the edge of the Marcellus shale play.

There are currently no operational sites in the forest.

U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment Robert Bonnie told the AP that demand for permits in the area has been low.

“The economic value of these reserves is very low. We’ve had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest,” Bonnie said.

More environmental analysis and public forums on the policy will be conducted before permits for the new area are issued.


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