Forest Service: Fracking Efforts Can Continue at GW National Forest

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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- Fracking will be allowed in parts of the largest national forest on the East Coast under a new federal management plan.

The U.S. Forest Service originally planned to ban fracking in the 1.1-million-acre George Washington National Forest. But energy companies cried foul after a draft of the plan was released in 2011. It would have been the first outright ban on the practice in a national forest.

Robert Bonnie is the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for natural resources and environment. He says fracking is already allowed at other national forests throughout the country, and the forest service didn't want to change the policy.

Environmental groups fear drilling could pollute mountain streams that provide drinking water to 250,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley.

Some things to know about the final management plan for the George Washington National Forest:

-- Allows oil and gas leasing on 10,000 acres where there are existing leases, and on 167,000 acres with existing private mineral rights.

-- Increases buffer zones along streams from 66 feet to 100 feet.

-- Increases the areas allowed for timber production from 350,000 acres to 452,000 acres.

-- Recommends wilderness be increased from 40,000 acres in six areas to 70,000 acres in eight areas.

-- Recommends creation of a 90,000-acre National Scenic Area on Shenandoah Mountain.