WASHINGTON — George Washington National Forest is more than just one of the largest expanses of pristine land in the East. It is the leafy cradle for the Shenandoah, James, and Potomac rivers, a source of drinking water for millions of people in greater Washington.
The forest — nearly 2 million acres of natural splendor straddling Virginia and West Virginia — might also hold another treasure: natural gas trapped under a deep layer of rock called the Marcellus Shale.
By the end of the month, the US Forest Service is expected to decide whether to ban or allow a controversial method of drilling, called hydraulic fracturing, under a new, 15-year forest management plan. The decision will settle a raging dispute between conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.