Journalism in the Public Interest

Frack Fluid Spill in Dimock Contaminates Stream, Killing Fish

Sept. 22: This post has been corrected.

A drill site entrance near the spill site in Dimock, Pa., taken this past winter. (Abrahm Lustgarten /ProPublica) Pennsylvania environment officials are racing to clean up as much as 8,000 gallons of dangerous drilling fluids after a series of spills at a natural gas production site near the town of Dimock last week.

The spills, which occurred at a well site run by Cabot Oil and Gas, involve a compound manufactured by Halliburton that is described as a "potential carcinogen" and is used in the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, according to state officials. The contaminants have seeped into a nearby creek, where a fish kill was reported by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP also reported fish "swimming erratically."

The incident is the latest in a series of environmental problems connected to Cabot’s drilling in the Dimock area. Last winter, drinking water in several area homes was found to contain metals and methane gas that state officials determined leaked underground from Cabot wells. And in the spring, the company was fined for several other spills, including an 800-gallon diesel spill from a truck that overturned.

Dimock, Penn.Neither Cabot Oil and Gas nor Halliburton immediately returned calls for comment on Monday. A Halliburton spokesperson sent an e-mail referring any questions to information on the company’s Web site.

DEP officials were also unavailable for interviews, but said through e-mail that faulty piping is suspected and that they have not confirmed the exact cause of the spill. A press spokesperson said to expect an announcement and actions toward Cabot by Tuesday.

ProPublica interviewed state officials several months ago about drilling problems in Dimock. "Cabot has definitely had their share of problems out there," Craig Lobins, a regional oil and gas division director, said then. "Some of them is just being a little bit careless … or sloppy, or maybe a little bit of bad luck too."

The drilling fluid spill Wednesday may be the most serious yet, because it involves chemicals that are known to pose a risk to human health and has spread into the area’s surface water system.

According to a Material Safety Data Sheet provided to the state this week by Halliburton, the spilled drilling fluid contained a liquid gel concentrate consisting of a paraffinic solvent and polysaccharide, chemicals listed as possible carcinogens for people. The MSDS form – for Halliburton’s proprietary product called LGC-35 CBM – does not list the entire makeup of the gel or the quantity of its constituents, but it warns that the substances have led to skin cancer in animals and "may cause headache, dizziness and other central nervous system effects" to anyone who breathes or swallows the fluids.

It is not yet clear exactly what led to or caused the spill. State officials report that at least 1,000 gallons of fluid were spilled Wednesday afternoon, and another 5,900 gallons about 10 that night. The substance was reportedly a clay-like mixture, with the Halliburton gel mixed at about five gallons per 1,000 gallons of water. A DEP spokesperson said in an e-mail that the spills appear to be the result of supply pipe failures. In one case a pressurized line may have broken, and in another a seal may have given way. State officials said the fluids had spilled into Stevens Creek.

The contamination incident comes as the state faces increasing scrutiny for its handling of a natural gas drilling boom and dozens of instances of spills and water contamination related to it across the state. Earlier investigations by ProPublica found that methane had leaked into drinking water supplies from gas wells in at least seven Pennsylvania counties. And earlier this month the DEP began investigating a suspected chemical spill in the northwestern part of the state, hundreds of miles from Dimock, which decimated aquatic life along a 30-mile stretch of pristine river. No determination has been made in that case either, but waste fluids from drilling are among the possibilities being investigated.

Correction: This story has been updated. A description of the spill provided in the story by Vincent Fronda actually referred to a Sept. 3 discharge near the Cabot well site in question. It was several hundred feet away and separate from the fracturing fluid spill that occurred last Wednesday. The photograph that accompanied the story, which was sent to ProPublica by a Dimock resident, was also of that earlier spill. Both the photo and the descriptive passage have been removed.

We know this can happen-are we surprised when it does? Just like auto accidents kill, drilling accidents destroy resources, kill living things, and will eventually kill humans. But, we feel we must take the risk to get cheap natural gas. I don’t see how we’re much better off than when we seek oil.

I agree. It’s ridiculous to hear people talking about natural gas like it’s some form of “clean” energy, or as if there are any form of safety precautions that could be taken that would prevent these sorts of things from happening.

I just hope the people here in New York and Pennsylvania can get their s**t together and stop these people before all of their creeks and ponds are filled with carcinogenic sludge.

Thank you ProPublica and Abrahm Lustgarten for coverage of this spill in Dimock, PA!

I live in upstate NY in the Marcellus Shale region, I am extremely concerned about the environmental damage and risks to public health that are likely to accompany the drilling, and I have been closely following the local news coverage of the spill in Dimock. To date, ProPublica’s coverage is the most detailed that I have encountered. This is an important article not just because it provides information that is very much needed by those of us living near Dimock and in other shale gas regions, but also because the entire nation should be concerned about the environmental damage and public health risks involved in the extraction of so-called “clean” natural gas. The hidden financial and human costs of this gas extraction are likely to be substantial, and it would be both unwise and immoral to ignore them. Thank you again for shining some much-needed light on this very important issue!

Eventhough at most care is taken on handling the natural gases the risk element is very high. With such huge risk associated with drilling, why do people go for it? Is money more important that the damage they do the nature and its elements?

ProPublica has done a good job by bringin up this issue.

Phillip Ed

[url=“”]canine kidney disease

OK, let me see if I got this straight from reading several of these stories.

1. They are pumping unknown and mysterious chemicals into the ground without any transparency or public disclosure of what it is.

2. This process is unregulated by any E.P.A. or other government office.

3. Whatever this stuff is, is killing and poisoning everything that it comes into contact with.

4. Those doing it and responsible for it are not talking because this evil stuff they are pumping into the ground is a trade secret.

So, as long as this stuff is accessible, is laying above ground in pools, is flowing down creeks, it is long over due that samples were taken of this death juice, analyzed and the whistle blown on this stuff for whatever it is, possesses killing power equal anthrax or Ebola.

I also would like to mention that if interested you could look into the many productive but capped off natural gas wells in the US.

The US is literally swamped in natural gas supplies.

Rumor has it that they are capped to keep the price up. Meanwhile, these frackers or whoever they are are doing this to get gas to sell at the price maintained by well capping.

It is all so stupid and really stupid.

Why is all the focus on Cabot while Halliburton flies under the radar?

Halliburton was the fracker
Halliburton mixed the toxic gel that spilled
Halliburton’s equipment failed (I’m betting this is the case)

I’ve watched frack operations and the contractor—Halliburton—comes onsite and takes control.

TxSharon, I respect your info. If you are sure about Haliburton, you have a very big story here in Texas! Haliburton-the name brings to mind VP Cheney, oil and the Iraqi war. They’re fracking, too?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

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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