The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday that a fourth and final round of testing indicates that water from 12 private wells in Dimock Township, PA is safe to drink, and found no evidence of contamination from natural gas drilling.
Meanwhile an attorney representing some of the households currently suing Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. said the EPA's findings were not compelling his clients to settle with the company, but conceded that negotiations have been ongoing.
EPA spokesman Roy Seneca told NGI's Shale Daily that the agency has now completed the sampling process at 61 homes in the Susquehanna County community, but plans to resample four wells where previous testing by Cabot and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) "showed levels of contaminants that pose a health concern but where EPA's initial round of sampling data did not detect levels that would require action."
According to Seneca, samples taken for the fourth test of 12 water wells "did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action." But he added that inspectors found an elevated level of methane at one of the 12 wells. He said the well's owner, the DEP and the county's Emergency Management Agency were all notified.
Seneca said the EPA also plans to follow up with three homeowners in Dimock over their request to have their water wells tested, too. He said the inspections have not been scheduled yet.
"Once all of the sample results are complete, we will conduct a comprehensive review to determine if there are any trends or patterns in the data as it relates to home well water quality," Seneca said. "Our actions will continue to be based on the best available science and legal authorities."
Friday's announcement was the latest in a string of findings that seem to vindicate Cabot of responsibility for any groundwater contamination. Earlier this year, the EPA deemed water samples from 11 households in the Carter Road/Meshoppen Creek Road area, followed by another 20 wells in the township, safe to drink (see Shale Daily, April 10; March 19).
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 DEP and Cabot, which had both maintained that Dimock's water was safe (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27; Jan. 23). The EPA had previously agreed with that sentiment, but reversed its position last December and asked residents to participate in a survey (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3).
"Throughout [our] work in Dimock, [we have] used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water," Seneca said.
Tate Kunkle, an attorney with the New York law firm Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Associates LLP who is representing some of the homeowners suing Cabot, told NGI's Shale Daily that the EPA's findings wouldn't affect the ongoing legal battle.
"While there are settlement talks ongoing, it's not because of the EPA, it's really because we're closer to trial and both parties' risk is coming up," Kunkle said Monday.
Kunkle filed a motion to compel discovery in the case, Fiorentio et al v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. et al, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on May 2. The plaintiffs allege that Cabot has withheld information vital to the case.
"Numerous rounds of water sampling have been conducted by both [the] plaintiffs and defendants, as well as numerous non-parties and regulatory agencies," Kunkle said in the motion. "[But] those water sampling results confirm that the local aquifer has become contaminated with explosive levels of methane and elevated levels of several compounds (e.g., sodium, manganese, iron, aluminum, etc.) and the contamination plume still persists."
Cabot spokesman George Stark could not be reached for comment Monday.
An investigation by the DEP 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).