IN 1993, the Clinton administration leased 12,000 acres of the nearly 2 million acres of the George Washington National Forest, which hugs the Virginia-West Virginia line.
But in 20 years, no one has been able to successfully complete the legendary federal trail of paperwork to secure the rights and actually drill a well.
In that time, Texas oilman George P. Mitchell, developed hydraulic fracturing into a commercially successful method of extracting oil and natural gas from well below the water table, which suddenly made viable drilling as deep as a mile below the surface.
This increased the value of the leases because the forest sits on the eastern edge of the Marcellus shale formation, which may contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
But just as hydraulic fracturing is taking off elsewhere in the Marcellus shale formation, the U.S. Forest Service may ban such drilling in the forest.
"If you had a pollutant anywhere in the watershed, it would be a concern," Ken Landgraf, planning staff officer for the forest told the Washington Post.
"But in the headwaters, everyone would have to deal with that. Everybody's going to see that further downstream in the watershed."
However, the wells go below the water table. Besides, the Jefferson National Forest, south of the Washington forest has had drilling for years to little notice by visitors.
"We've had traditional gas-drilling operations for years, never a problem," Landgraf said.
Nevertheless, the Forest Service is set to decide later this month whether it will impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists are quick to raise fears but not facts in this debate.
For example, Thomas Benzing, vice president of conservation for Trout Unlimited in Virginia and a James Madison University science and technology professor, said wastewater from hydraulic fracturing would harm trout.
But Benzing could not cite an incident where hydraulic fracturing killed trout.
Experience in Pennsylvania and West Virginia shows fracking can be done safely without harming the environment. Instead of a moratorium, the Forest Service should consider the facts.