Dimock, PA Fracking Controversy Heats Up Again

Sixty-one homes in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania will have their well water tested to determine if they were contaminated by natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). According to a report from the Reading Eagle, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the company drilling near Dimock, asking if they would be interested in participating in the Dimock investigation. While DEP and Cabot have agreed to work with the EPA, neither is happy that the agency has reignited the Dimock fracking investigation.

“Our review, so far, tells us that EPA does not seem to have presented any new data here,” DEP spokeswoman Katherine Gresh said. “More than a year ago, DEP’s enforcement action addressed this issue and ensured funds were set aside to resolve the water quality issues for these homeowners.”

Cabot says its own tests show the Dimock well water meets federal health standards or reflects natural conditions, and maintains its drilling is not responsible for the contamination cited by the EPA. Late last week, Cabot sent a complaint to the EPA claiming that its Dimock investigation undermines President Barack Obama’s embrace of natural gas in his State of the Union speech.

“EPA’s actions in Dimock appear to undercut the president’s stated commitment to this important resource,” Chief Executive Officer Dan Dinges wrote today in a letter EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, according to a Bloomberg News report. “EPA’s approach has caused confusion that undermines important policy goals of the United States to ensure safe, reliable, secure and clean energy sources from domestic natural gas.”

Dimock was prominently featured in the HBO documentary “GasLand” which detailed the dangers of fracking, a natural gas drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure. In late 2009, a group of Dimock residents sued Cabot Oil and Gas Co. in federal court for contaminating their wells and hurting the value of their real estate. The DEP later concluded the Dimock water well contamination was caused by faulty well casing and drilling operations and not the fracking process itself, though a spill of a fracking solution made its way to a local stream.

Cabot stopped making water deliveries to Dimock homes on December 1, after the DEP said the company had met the relevant terms of a December 2010 settlement over the methane contamination, the Reading Eagle said. The company had offered to pay twice the tax-assessed value of each home and install methane removal systems, but many residents rejected the proposed settlement.

As we reported previously, Dimock was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this month after the EPA received “hundreds of pages” of documents from residents that provided evidence that widespread fracking in the area has contaminated their water wells. The EPA had ruled the water in Dimock “safe”, but later admitted that more testing of water samples was necessary.

In a memo released January 19, the EPA cited its authority under the federal Superfund law to justify its action in Dimock, according to the Reading Eagle. According to the memo, “a number of home wells in the Dimock area contain hazardous substances, some of which are not naturally found in the environment.” It also maintains that there is reason to believe that the contamination came from drilling, and that the methane removal systems offered by Cabot may not remove all contaminants.

The EPA also announced at that time that it would deliver water to four families in Dimock, where residents say their water has been contaminated during hydraulic fracturing by Cabot.

Last week, the EPA responded to Cabot’s complaints, denying the Dimock probe would undermine the President’s natural gas pledge.

“We have been clear that if we see an immediate threat to public health, we will not hesitate to take steps under the law to protect Americans whose health may be at risk,” the agency said in the statement. “EPA’s samples will be collected and reviewed using the highest scientific standards.”

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