Housing Complex

Experts Worried Fracking Could Harm D.C. Area’s Water Supply


The Potomac River supplies D.C.'s drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service is working on a plan for the George Washington National Forest that has some experts concerned for the future safety of D.C.'s drinking water.

Last week, the Forest Service pushed back its release of the plan, which was originally set for late August or early September, to late October or early November. Still up in the air is the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process of natural gas extraction. The Forest Service's Ken Landgraf tells the Associated Press that no decision has been made on fracking in the forest, which is located mainly in Virginia and partly in West Virginia.

In 2011, Tom Jacobus, managing director of the Washington Aqueduct, wrote a letter to Landgraf that has not previously been made public, expressing his concern about the potential effects of fracking on D.C.'s water supply.

"Washington Aqueduct strongly supports the selection of an Alternative that prohibits the use of horizontal fracturing (hydrofracking) for natural gas development within the Forest," Jacobus wrote. "Although studies on the technique are still needed in order to fully understand the potential impact on drinking water, enough study on the technique has been done and information has been published to give us great cause for concern about the potential for degradation of the quality of our raw water supply as well as impact to the quantity of the supply."

Jacobus could not be reached for comment.

The general manager of the Fairfax County Water Authority wrote a similar letter to Landgraf in 2011, explaining "Natural gas development activities have the potential to impact the quantity and quality of Fairfax Water's source water through consumptive use of water, generation of wastewater with high levels of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and often unknown chemical 'fracking-fluid' additives, land-disturbing activities associated with the well pad and related features, and the disruption of natural groundwater flow pathways."

The fracking process requires the use of large quantities of water, some of which comes back out of the drilling site. Disposal of this potentially harmful wastewater is a challenge for the gas-mining companies. In other states, gas drillers have sometimes dumped this water into nearby rivers. The Potomac, not far from the forest, is the source of D.C.'s water supply.

Jacobus' letter is reprinted below:

Photo via Flickr user JoshuaDavisPhotography

  • Voila

    The Potomac and the Susquehanna are both in trouble and therefore so is the Bay.

  • John Krohn

    "The only thing to fear is fear itself." The idea that fracking can harm DC's water supply is a scare tactic designed to gin up opposition against a technical process that has enabled the U.S. to lead the developed world in carbon reductions.

    Don't take my word for it though. U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nobel laureate, has stated unequivocally that the risks associated with water quality are manageable. Meanwhile, there have been over 8,000 wells developed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the past five years; during this time the health of the bay hasn't declined, in fact, it's improved. Metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth hosts over 16,000 natural gas wells developed with fracking and voila the city's water supply is fine.

    Yes, there can be accidents and certainly the activity needs to be regulated but the idea that the practice will irrevocably damage entire watersheds is without merit.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AdamLDC Adam L

    ^Citation needed to pretty much everything stated above.

    However, the author makes it sound as if "over 8,000 wells developed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed" have all used fracking, which is untrue.

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  • Greg Wilson

    Google John Krohn...I have to assume he is the guy who shows up as an ENERGY CONSULTANT...out to protect his own money stream...I do not believe anything ANY government employee spews from their self serving mouth...and I hope and believe that more and more Americans are feeling the same way....ANYONE who watches the documentary "GasLand" will not be able to refute any of these VALID concerns..Then watch "Speaking Freely" to see how the criminals running our government get things done. I sincerely hope that someday your friends or family are directly affected by the pollution that YOU endorse

  • Ben

    John Krohn is a fracking shill.

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  • George VASS

    Why not use waste water from sewage treatment plants to frack wells, thus killing 2 birds with one stone?