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EPA Wades Deeper Into Dimock, PA, Well Water Dispute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will perform water sampling at about 61 homes in Dimock -- the small Susquehanna County, PA, township where some state officials believe hydraulic fracturing (fracking) may have contaminated water wells -- "to further assess whether any residents are being exposed to hazardous substances that cause health concerns," EPA said.

After first saying that local water was safe to drink, EPA officials went to Dimock in late December, asking residents to participate in a survey to address "potential gaps in sampling and sample results" (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3). The agency said its decision to conduct sampling in the township is based on its review of the data provided by Dimock residents, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Hazardous substances found in some home wells in the township, including arsenic and barium, "could cause adverse health impacts when chronic exposure through drinking water or other uses of water in the home occurs," according to EPA.

The sampling will begin "in a matter of days" and will take at least three weeks to be completed, with results expected about five weeks later, EPA said Thursday.

"EPA is working diligently to understand the situation in Dimock and address residents' concerns," said EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin. "We believe that the information provided to us by the residents deserves further review, and conducting our own sampling will help us fill information gaps. Our actions will be based on the science and the law and we will work to help get a more complete picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock."

Cabot on Friday said it was "disappointed" that EPA had "undertaken a course regarding water sampling that seems inconsistent with what is known about Dimock and what was recommended by state regulators." EPA's decision to begin testing water in Dimock, coming after Pennsylvania regulators concluded drinking water in the area meets regulatory standards, "marks a change in position for the agency, unsupported by any new facts," Cabot said. "State regulators are closest to the facts and most familiar with ground water and geological formations in the area."

EPA also said it would begin delivering water to four homes in the Carter Road/Meshoppen Creek Road area of Dimock because data reviewed by the agency "indicates that residents' well water contains levels of contaminants that pose a health concern." The water deliveries will continue until at least the time water sampling is completed at those homes, EPA said.

Eleven households in the Carter Road area of the township had been receiving potable water from Cabot for months, and in some cases, years, following the explosion of a private water well on Jan. 1, 2009. The DEP investigated and said Cabot was responsible for methane contamination in water wells serving 19 households, a charge the Houston-based company denies.

Cabot settled the issue with the DEP in December 2010 without accepting blame but nevertheless agreeing to pay the affected residents $4.1 million and provide whole-house gas mitigation systems. Eight of the households agreed to the settlement, but 11 households found the company's offer insufficient and filed a lawsuit in federal court while receiving potable water from Cabot (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2010).

Last year DEP said Cabot could discontinue the water deliveries by Nov. 30 because the company had satisfied the terms of the settlement, a decision affirmed by a Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board judge (see Shale Daily, Dec. 2, 2011; Oct. 20, 2011).

The EPA could learn a few lessons about Dimock from DEP's experiences there, DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said in a Jan. 5 letter to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin. Based on a conversation the two officials had at the time of EPA's survey in Dimock, "it was clear that EPA is really at the very early stages of its learning curve with respect to Dimock and EPA's understanding of the technical facts and DEP's enforcement history with respect to Dimock is rudimentary...We stand ready to share our vast amount of information about Dimock and to assist you in EPA's getting up to speed on both the technical data and the enforcement history," Krancer wrote.

The situation in Dimock has "a high degree of 'neighbor versus neighbor' emotion," which has been exacerbated by the outside attention the issue has received, according to Krancer, who asked that EPA's efforts "be guided by sound science and the law instead of emotion and publicity."

The DEP previously cited Houston-based Cabot for "improper" construction at wells that DEP said led to contamination at private water wells in another Susquehanna County township (see Shale Daily, Jan. 11). Cabot has questioned a Duke University study that found a link between fracking and increased cases of gas migration in northeastern Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, Jan. 18).

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