Breaking News: Dimock Gas Wells Pass DEP Test, Cabot Not at Fault

On February 27, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) served Cabot Oil & Gas with a “Notice of Violation” claiming Cabot’s drilling activities in the Carter Road area of Dimock Township, PA caused some local private water wells to be contaminated with methane (see the MDN article Cabot Oil & Gas Served with “Notice of Violation” in Dimock, PA). One month later, the DEP seems to have reversed its position.

Buried in the Saturday, March 28 edition of the Scranton Times-Tribune we get the story that recent test results from the DEP show no indication of water contamination due to Cabot’s hydro-fracturing activities in the area. Yes, you read that right. Cabot’s Marcellus drilling activity is not to blame for methane (natural gas) water contamination in the Dimock area according to the PA State DEP.

The DEP will continue testing and monitoring, and Cabot will continue providing water for four homes that it has been providing water to, due to elevated levels of methane in the water. But the DEP seems to have just reversed its position that Cabot is the cause of methane appearing in a few local water wells. Big news that deserves a big headline.

What has the DEP tested for that might indicate hydrofacturing has caused contamination?

Indicators could include total dissolved solids, chlorides, specific conductivity, pH, alkalinity, hardness, sodium, calcium, barium, iron, manganese, potassium and aluminum.

The DEP is promising they will continue to be vigilant in Dimock:

Residents “expressed concern to us that methane wasn’t the only thing impacting their groundwater, their wells,” DEP spokesman Mark Carmon said. “We’ll continue to look at both.”

Cabot spokesman Ken Komoroski said the company is “pleased” that the department has found no indication of wells being tainted from gas well hydro-fracturing activity, and will continue to work with the DEP to ensure the safety and health of residents.

MDN will continue to cover this story as it develops.

Read the full article: Dimock gas wells pass DEP test

Read the full DEP press release: PA DEP Continues to Analyze Dimock Water Supplies


    The DEP did not reverse itself. The DEP did find that Cabot was responsible for methane contamination in Dimock water wells.
    The misleadingly titled press release merely states that “hydraulic fracturing activities” did not cause contamination – presumably that means water wells have not been found to be contaminated with fracking fluid; it does not mean water wells were not contaminated by Cabot’s drilling activities.

  • Jim, I’m glad you included links to DEP’s actual press release. If you read it carefully – several readings may be necessary – you’ll see that the Scranton Times-Tribune’s headline is very misleading. But then, the DEP’s press release was designed to generate misleading headlines like that.

    I know you think that the press is biased against drilling. And as you know, I’ve posted here before that that’s very much *not* the case. This is a good example. The article takes DEP’s press release and runs with it, without any analysis that would help the reading public actually understand the deliberately murky press release. The overall effect of the article is to promote misunderstanding of DEP’s findings and its press release – the very misunderstanding you came away with yourself and promulgate here, “Cabot not at fault.”

    None of this is an accident. The result is exactly the sort of confusion that serves DEP’s and Cabot’s mutual interests.

    Separately, I’ll post an analysis that should help.

  • As promised in my previous post, the analysis:

    In its efforts to soft-pedal the disciplinary process (such as it is) as well as the hazards of gas drilling, DEP is using technicalities and vagueness to cause a Babel of different conversations. Technical is good, but lots of people aren’t so technical and just want to know who to blame and the general cause (gas extraction activity) rather than the specific cause (fracking, casing, whatever). If you really want citizens to understand what’s going on, you can’t write a press release like DEP’s recent masterpiece of obfuscation. If you want them to get frustrated and give up, you do.

    OK, the logic goes like this:

    If the stray methane is identified by its chemical signature as not being from the target formation, then the methane contamination can’t be due to fracking, because only the target formation gets fracked (that is, if the fracking only fracked what it was supposed to frack, which isn’t necessarily the case).

    Ergo, if the detected contaminating gas is from a non-target formation, then its presence in an aquifer is because of improper or inadequate casing or something similar – not fracking.

    The problem is, people (in this case, the people of Dimock) don’t really care whether it was fracking or improper casing technique, or whatever other variables might come into play. Surprisingly, they’re annoyed because before the drillers moved in they used to be able to drink their water, and now they can’t. What matters to most people is that the methane (and associated hydrocarbon) contamination of their water wells *is* from well development activity, so for most intents and purposes, DEP is splitting hairs.

    And in fact, DEP was a little(!) vague; here’s a quote from the press release:

    “Our laboratory analyzed the water samples from wells in the area to look for indicators that would identify and indicate impacts from gas drilling and hydro fracturing,” said DEP Northeast Regional Director Michael Bedrin.

    They then proceed to say the methane definitely isn’t from fracking, but they never make a direct reference again to what other drilling-related activity, as per the mention in that sentence above, is the likely cause.

    And if you read the press release, you could easily draw the conclusion that people using all 9 impacted wells are receiving alternate water supplies. To the best of my knowledge, only the users of the 4 wells that are actually potentially explosive are receiving alternate water supplies.

    Hmm, wonder why DEP is being so cagey?

    I’m all for precision; in fact, some people find me annoyingly obsessive about it. But IMO DEP is deliberately using a lack of scientific certainty about the actual technical cause and a lack of technical literacy in the general population to deflect criticism from Cabot and a verifiably suspect technique (fracking).

    Since DEP doesn’t in the press release supply evidence for its claim, it leaves us to wonder if they’ve made the insupportable leap of logic from, “there’s no proof it was from fracking” to “we’ve proved that it wasn’t from fracking.” That’s a big leap. By requiring Cabot to address casing and cementing issues, they’ve acknowledged that *gas drilling did* cause the methane contamination, even if hydraulic fracturing didn’t. What this means is that they’re telling us that gas drilling is dangerous to aquifers even *without* hydraulic fracturing. They didn’t really want to admit that, and that’s among the several reasons for the release’s ambiguity. Amother is, if I’m correct, the not-so-subtle hand of Cabot’s PR and legal team in the wording of that press release.

    At any rate, if DEP wants us to accept their statement that fracking had nothing to do with the problem, and that it was “only” the drilling process that did, let’s see the evidence.

  • sam

    I don’t trust the DEP, and I don’t trust any gas drilling company.

  • Citizen of Susq, Co,

    This is an email I received from the DEP regarding the question discussed here.

    “The DEP investigation that led to the consent order and agreement concluded that wells with deficient cementing and/or casings were the cause of the water supply contamination, that those deficiencies allowed natural gas (methane) to enter groundwater. In the consent order and agreement, the department identified suspect wells where cementing/casing was deficient. It is possible that only one of those gas wells might be responsible or it is possible that multiple gas wells might be responsible for the water supply contamination. Cabot is correcting the deficiencies in its wells per the agreement and is to identify and report to DEP which well or wells are responsible for the contamination.

    Regarding statements made by Mr. Komorowski, he is speaking on behalf of Cabot. He does not speak for the department.

    I am attaching a news release that the department issued in November regarding the consent order and agreement with Cabot. I hope you find it helpful.”

    Freda Tarbell
    DEP Community Relations Coordinator

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