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PA's Hanger Fires Back at Cabot's 'Public Relations' Data

Responding to Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.'s "public relations" announcement a day earlier, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary John Hanger on Wednesday said he would continue to hold the company responsible for groundwater contamination in Dimock Township, PA.

While PENNVEST, a state agency that finances water and sewer infrastructure projects, will be asked to provide $11.8 million to cover the cost of constructing a 5.5-mile water main from a Lake Montrose treatment plant to Dimock, the state will seek court orders to make Cabot pay for all costs, Hanger said in an open letter to Dimock residents.

"The residents of Dimock have already paid a high price for Cabot's unwillingness to accept responsibility and provide a satisfactory solution. Cabot will be the one paying the final bill. Perhaps next time Cabot will do the job right the first time and avoid expensive repairs," Hanger wrote in the letter.

Hanger first unveiled the plan to install a water line to replace contaminated water wells for 14 affected homes in Dimock last month (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1).

"Since that announcement was made, Cabot has launched a public relations campaign and much misinformation has been brought forth concerning who will be party to that solution and who will end up paying for it," Hanger said in the letter to Dimock residents. "Cabot is responsible for the gas migration that has caused families to be without a permanent water supply for nearly two years and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will seek court orders to make Cabot pay for all costs."

Tapping into the new public water supply will be optional and the line will boost the value of nearby homes and businesses, Hanger said.

On Tuesday Cabot released data indicating that only four drinking water wells in Dimock have methane exceeding the Department of the Interior's suggested action levels (see Shale Daily, Oct. 20). The company said the nearly $12 million remedial action proposed by Hanger would mean $3 million spent for each of the four affected homes.

The data provided further evidence that there has been gas in area water wells "for generations" before Cabot arrived on the scene, and the company's natural gas drilling operations did not contaminate groundwater in the area, Cabot said.

However, Hanger, an appointee of outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, maintains "DEP has collected ample evidence tying methane found in private water supplies to Cabot's wells. We have witnessed and chronicled bubbling gas and high pressure readings from a number of wells that prove poor well construction, and taken readings that show excessive gas levels that could only exist in wells that are leaking. Sophisticated testing has 'fingerprinted' gas samples and matched the gas found in five homes to the gas leaking from the nearby Cabot wells."

Since April DEP has ordered Cabot to plug three operating gas wells in the township and take remedial action on a fourth well, fined Cabot $240,000 and ordered the company to install permanent treatment systems in the homes, prohibited Cabot from drilling any new wells in a nine-square-mile area around Dimock until April 2011, and determined that additional water supplies serving four residences had been contaminated by migrating gas caused by Cabot's drilling activities (see Daily GPI, Sept. 22; April 19). Cabot has disputed the DEP allegations.

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