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Cabot Says Duplicate EPA Tests in Dimock Undermine Policy

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. says it is "disappointed" and "concerned" over a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct water sampling in Dimock Township, PA, saying the action duplicates a state investigation, causes regulatory uncertainty and conflicts with Obama administration policy.

In a letter Thursday to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cabot CEO Dan Dinges said the agency's involvement could undermine President Obama's energy strategy announced in the State of the Union message Tuesday, which calls for shale gas to play an expanded role in the nation's energy supply (see Shale Daily,Jan. 26).

"We are disappointed that EPA has undertaken a course regarding water sampling that seems inconsistent with what is known about Dimock and what was recommended by state regulators," Dinges said.

"The president made a strong call to all Americans last night to take advantage of the new opportunities in shale gas development. To prevent uncertainty and further advance these opportunities, in our view, what is needed is an objective approach by EPA to dealing with community concerns -- something missing in recent EPA actions."

The case had apparently been closed for all but a few homeowners who refused the state-approved settlement of alleged water contamination with Cabot, plus an environmental cadre (see Shale Daily, Nov. 30). But in spite of extensive state tests and studies previously made available to the agency, EPA in December said it would do its own survey. Residents would be asked to participate in a survey to address "potential gaps in sampling and sample results" (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3).

Dinges asserts that the EPA has presented no credible evidence that the testing is necessary, that the agency's concerns run counter to findings by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and that the initiative is a departure from the EPA's stand on the issue. "EPA's changing posture on sampling in Dimock is indicative of a broader problem of inconsistency with scientific process and a lack of cooperation with state and private sector parties," Dinges said.

Victoria Switzer, who lives in the affected Carter Road area of the township, told NGI's Shale Daily EPA officials were coming to her house on Friday morning to take water samples. She said she was told the test results would be known within a week. "I'm happy the EPA is coming," Switzer said Thursday. "They're going to test for a lot of things. It's not going to be a bogus test."

Switzer said Friday will be the first time the EPA has tested water from her home, although the DEP, researchers from Duke University and private companies have conducted tests in the past. She said the DEP advised her to vent her well after high levels of methane were found.

"Hopefully they will give me a clean bill of health and I'll have a great baseline for when [Cabot] comes back in here to finish the wells that they've started," Switzer said, adding that her water well is within 2,000 feet of three Cabot gas wells, the closest one being 710 feet away.

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