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Pa. Environmental Agency Butts Heads With Gas Drilling Company Over Town’s Water Woes

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Dimock resident Julie Sautner, seen in her basement with water from her filtration system, flushed her toilet one day to find a rush of earth-brown water. Tests showed her drinking water was high in aluminum, iron and methane. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

Residents of Dimock, Pa., whose water woes have been widely chronicled as a prime example of the hidden costs of natural gas drilling,  will get a safe and permanent water supply to replace their methane-contaminated wells, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.

For about two years, Cabot Oil & Gas, a natural gas drilling company, has supplied drinking water to some Dimock residents after several private drinking wells were found to be contaminated with methane, the main component of natural gas. A few wells have exploded. The Pennsylvania DEP has said that Cabot is responsible for the problems and announced intentions to bill the company for the cost of an $11.8 million plan to construct a new public water line to serve these residents.

"We have had people here in Pennsylvania without safe drinking water for nearly two years," said John Hanger, head of Pennsylvania's DEP. "That is totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible. We have given Cabot every opportunity to resolve this matter."

But Cabot has pushed back against the agency, taking out a full-page ad this week in several local newspapers and calling plans to construct the water system "unreasonable, unprecedented ... and unfair."

The company also issued the following statement:

Despite the fact that the company has presented overwhelming scientific evidence and historical documentation to the Pennsylvania DEP proving it is not responsible for methane gas migration to local water wells, the Pennsylvania DEP has chosen to ignore such evidence, preferring instead to base unprecedented and costly mandates on biased and unscientific opinions and accounts.

Pennsylvania's DEP chief said earlier this week that the agency and the company would likely end up in court on this issue.

As we've reported, the agency fined Cabot $120,000 last fall after determining that water supplies were contaminated by methane gas leaked through Cabot's faulty well casings. It was fined again in April for failure to address the problem of methane contamination. This time the fine was heftier — a $240,000 penalty, plus $30,000 each month until the department determines that the problem has been properly addressed. It also ordered the company to permanently shut down some of its wells.

As we've noted, methane in drinking water itself isn't necessarily harmful or dangerous, but it can be when it evaporates from the water and into people's homes. If the gas becomes concentrated enough, it can ignite, even in water.

A private lab that tested water in Dimock found that water supplies in the areas affected by methane contamination were also contaminated by toxic industrial solvents including toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported earlier this month.

A group of Dimock residents — among them, a former Cabot employee and several residents whose wells had caught fire — filed a lawsuit last year against the company for the contamination and the health risks it could pose to them.

Cabot mentioned the lawsuit in its ad this week, adding that it "does not believe it caused these conditions and intends to fight these allegations through its scientific findings."

chip lone bear

Oct. 1, 2010, 1:07 p.m.

WELL ITS ABOUT TIME!  THANK THE GREAT SPIRIT THAT DIMOCK IS FINALLY GETTING WATER!
NOW WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF US?
AND WHAT ABOUT “THE LIST” AND MARIANNE SWINEHUNT AND HER CRIMINAL CO-HORTS?

Earl D. Morgan MD

Oct. 1, 2010, 3:27 p.m.

It is a shame that the government of PA does not have tougher environmental regulations to protect its citizenry. The state already has a high cancer rate and many of the chemicals in the fracing fluids and the gasses themselves are carcinogenic risking further cancers within the population as well as decimating our fish and wildlife.

“Externality”, the corporate model, let the people pay for the mess.

This action is typical of gas companies around the world.  There are documentaries (not just Gasland) that have been made over the years exposing the vile actions of these gas companies.  Do everything you can to keep this drilling out of the Delaware Watershed until this gas extraction is absolutely safe.  There is so little potable water left on the planet that pretty soon pure water will be worth more than gas and oil.

Is that supposed to make us feel better?  The company sending in water fit to drink?  Are you kidding me?  Thats not an answer.  The question is why did they contaminate so basic a need as our water supply and why are they allowed to not only continue but to expand their operations as well?  Wheres the outrage?  I see plenty of apathy but what we need is a lot more outrage.

Well Ms Wang, it looks like you have taken a page from Mr Lustgarden’s playbook when it comes to reporitng about hydraulic fracturing.

Lets break it down

For about two years, Cabot Oil & Gas, a natural gas drilling company, has supplied drinking water [6] to some Dimock residents after several private drinking wells were found to be contaminated with methane, the main component of natural gas. A few wells have exploded.

No, only one well has exploded. And wasn’t the gas in the wells found to be biogenic, that is naturally occurring and not the same gas found in the shale reserves?

<i>As we’ve noted, methane in drinking water itself isn’t necessarily harmful [1] or dangerous, but it can be when it evaporates from the water and into people’s homes. <i>

Gas doesn’t “evaporate” from a liquid, it effervesces.

<i>A private lab that tested water in Dimock found that water supplies in the areas affected by methane contamination were also contaminated by toxic industrial solvents [15] including toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported earlier this month. <i>

And that private lab also found the gas to be biological in origin, didn’t it? Seems like a relevant piece of information. And as for those “toxic industrial solvents”, isn’t ethylbenzene found in things like paints, insecticides, and asphalt? Is this just another bait and switch on Propublica’s part? Say the words “toxic chemicals” and then mention hydraulic fracturing and let the readers make the connection? Even though no such connection has been documented and, in fact, the only case where a baseline ground water sample was compared to a post drilling sample, in a situation similar to Dimock where wells had methane contamination, there was no contamination from drilling fluids.

What a joke you people are.
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I guess it stands to reason that some investors would get upset over these lawsuits. Maybe we should just wait and let the court system decide the truth of the case.

Phew, and thank YOU Mike H…..now I can sleep.  Since you say ethylbenzene is found in paints, perhaps implying that since we always pour paints into our water wells anyway, the ethylbenzene from hydrofracking is welcome in our water supplies. What’s a little more?  Right.

This is NOT a logical or relevant argument, in any way, for the contamination found in these wells.  I do believe there have been DEFINITE DEFECTS in the well casings in the area of the Dimock wells…enough so that even Cabot acknowledged the leaking and tried to stop it.  WHY would they acknowledge such a thing if not so?

The current pro-drilling propaganda I find to be offensive.  There is now a website which I would rather not give free advertising to that has interviews with several residents of shale country….all saying how wonderful all this gas drilling is.  It is very professionally and expensively produced….and no doubt WILL convince some people of the safety/greatness of the current gas drilling boom here in NE PA.  Abe Lincoln had it right when he said: You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME. 
Now anyone mentioning doubts about the safety of drilling is said to be a threat to the security of the gas companies?  (read about Homeland Security head resigning today because this was his view) How about not a ‘threat’ to gas but a SAFETY NET to keep potable water here in NE PA???? A voice for the right to live here without being killed/made ill by our surroundings?
It seems to me that the gas people are now feeling the pressure of an informed public vs the easy marks the citizens here were two years ago when so many residents signed leases with the companies. Many many landowners considered it a joke at that point.  No more.  Now much better informed landowners are demanding much more in incentive money, royalties, and guarantees of safe water, land, air.  More power to accurate reporting of the real story behind contamination and pollution.  Remember:  All that glitters is NOT gold.  We have a right to protect our very ability to live here…...........now and long after the ‘glitter’ fades. The gas companies may ‘own’ the right to remove gas/oil from underneath our feet, but they do not ‘own’ us or have a right to ruin our freedom/ability to live in this currently beautiful part of the world.
I happen to love living here and value the natural values of living here.

I JUST SAW VIRGINIA COBY IS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR PLEASE WHEN YOU VOTE ASK FOR A WRITE IN PAPER BALLOT AND VOTE FOR VIRGINIA CODY I AM GOING TO VOLEENTEER FOR HER SINCE BOTH RUNNING CAND ARE PRO DRILLING ANY VOTE FOR THE CURRENT CAND FOR GOV IS A VOTE FOR THE GAS DRILLERS PLEASE VOTE FOR MISS CODY AND PLEASE VOTE FOR JOE SESTAK HE IS ALSO ON OUR SIDE AND TO ALL NEW YORKERS PLEASE VOTE FOR MR. HINCHEY ! WE MIGHT JUST HAVE A CHANCE IF WE CAN GET ONE PERSON WHO IS AGAINST IT1
AND TO THAT THIEF AND LIAR MARIANNE SWINEHUNT BUY US OUT YOU LIAR AND THIEF AS WELL AS YOUR HUSBAND IS A MURDER!

What a joke you are too, Mike H. Unfortunately, you’re not a funny one. Too bad, b/c it seems you made some effort to research the facts.

I would like to see what study/facts/investigation the DEP based its decisions on. I would also like to point out that given the circumstances in which methane was found in these wells, one can say that there’s a strong correlation. But that may not constitute evidence.

This does not justify Cabot’s CEO’s statement, however, which I find almost insulting.

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This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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