To the Editor:
In "Residents Concerned About ‘Fracking in Our Backyard’" (Connection, April 3-9, 2014), readers may wonder how pollutants entering the Potomac River 200 miles upstream in the George Washington National Forest could still be toxic in Fairfax County. After all, wouldn’t the chemicals be diluted by the water in the Potomac? The answer depends on the pollutants and the flow of water. Take just one of the potential pollutants, benzene, a known human carcinogen toxic in drinking water at any concentration greater than five parts per billion. Based on published concentrations of petroleum distillates like kerosene or petroleum naphtha used in fracking fluid and the benzene content of these distillates, there could be enough benzene in the fracking fluid injected into a single natural gas well in the George Washington National Forest to pollute 84 billion gallons of water. The median flow rate of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. is seven billion gallons per day. If this petroleum distillate from just one of the estimated 250 wells forecast to be drilled in the forest leaks into just one of the many creeks that feeds the Potomac, we would have to hope that the Potomac has a much higher flow rate than the median, that some of the benzene dissipates before making its way downstream or that our water providers could remove the benzene.
We do not want to repeat the mistakes made recently near Charleston, W. Va., where a virtually unknown chemical was stored near the Elk River. As we know, the chemical leaked into the river and contaminated water supplies for 300,000 people. Because of these risks, officials in Cincinnati, which lies 200 miles downriver from the site of the recent West Virginia spill, felt compelled to close their water intake valves as the spill floated by.
Instead of tempting that fate, better to prohibit fracking in the George Washington National Forest.
The writer is At-Large member of Fairfax County's Environmental Quality Advisory Council, and Political Chair, Great Falls Group of the VA Sierra Club.