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'Epa-Dimock' Over? Testing Finds No Contamination from Drilling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday initial test results of water samples taken from 11 households in the Carter Road/Meshoppen Creek Road area of Dimock Township, PA, do not indicate any levels of contamination from natural gas drilling.

"Sampling results from these 11 homes did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern," the EPA said. The agency later added that it "has offered to meet with all the residents to go over their data and answer any health-related concerns...Our actions will continue to be based on the science and the law as we work to help get a clear picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock."

The EPA said samples from six of the 11 homes -- which were all taken the week of Jan. 23 -- found elevated levels of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but the concentrations were all within the safe range for drinking water. Samples from two homes found traces of arsenic.

EPA officials said in January the agency would take water samples from about 61 homes in the Susquehanna County community, much to the chagrin of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which both maintained that Dimock's water is safe (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27; Jan. 23).

Houston-based Cabot said it was vindicated by the EPA's findings.

"Cabot is steadfastly committed to environmental stewardship, collaboration with state regulators, and compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws," the company said. "We are pleased that data released by EPA today on sampling of water in Dimock confirmed earlier findings that Dimock drinking water meets all regulatory standards.

"As one of the first developers in the Marcellus Shale to recognize the importance of this exceptional resource for our nation's future, Cabot has, and will continue, to work closely with the Dimock community, state and local regulators on concerns in the area. We also intend to continue to work with the EPA and call on the agency to engage in meaningful cooperation -- not just at Dimock but in other noteworthy production areas in the United States."

Victoria Switzer -- whose Carter Road area home was one of the approximately 61 that were tested, but was not among the 11 households of concern -- told NGI's Shale Daily she has mixed feelings about the EPA's findings. "I was pretty astounded," Switzer said Friday. "Although my water looks OK, it is a snapshot. It gives me peace of mind about showering and laundry, but I don't intend to start drinking it because of this test result.

"To be honest, right now I have more questions than answers. I was hoping this was going to give me some kind of feeling of closure."

Switzer said she would resume purchasing bottled water at the grocery store for drinking and cooking. Meanwhile, the EPA said it would continue to provide water to three of the 11 households in the Carter Road/Meshoppen Creek Road area while it performs additional sampling. The agency also planned to take a second round of samples at the two homes that had trace amounts of arsenic.

"After receiving results from the second round of sampling, [we] will re-evaluate the need to continue providing an alternate water source," the EPA said.

The EPA had previously agreed with DEP and Cabot that Dimock's water was safe, but last December it reversed its position and was asking residents to participate in an EPA survey (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3).

In January the EPA said previous water samples taken from four homes in the Carter Road area were cause for concern, and promised to deliver water to the homes until additional testing was completed.

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 company denies.

Cabot settled the issue with the DEP in December 2010 without accepting blame but 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).

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