EPA Promises Water for Dimock PA, Reneges 24 Hours Later

EPA fingers crossedThe news out of Dimock, PA is coming so fast and furious, it’s hard to keep track of it all. First, a brief background on the situation in Dimock, the context you almost never read in the mainstream media:

In 2008, Cabot Oil & Gas drilled a number of Marcellus Shale gas wells in Dimock Township in Pennsylvania, a rural area in the northeastern part of the state, in Susquehanna County. Homeowners located along the Carter Road area noticed high levels of methane in their drinking water. After an investigation by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the DEP fined Cabot in 2009 stating that Cabot’s operations in the area caused methane to migrate into a local water aquifer serving anywhere from 13 to 19 houses, depending on the changing storyline.

The PA DEP worked out a deal whereby Cabot would deliver fresh water via tanker to each of the homes, and while doing so, would be required to install filtration systems that would remove methane from their water. Drinking water that has methane (natural gas) does not harm humans. But methane can lead to explosions if it concentrates and comes into contact with a spark or flame. The DEP also ordered Cabot to compensate affected families twice the value of their property, so those affected could buy new homes should they chose to.

Here’s where the issue gets murky, and what you don’t read in press accounts most of the time: 11 of the 19 families receiving water from Cabot refused to let Cabot install filtration systems and refused compensation for their properties. In fact, many (all 11?) have denied Cabot the right to test their water. Instead, they are suing Cabot, hoping for a huge payout. The PA DEP grew tired of their refusals to allow more testing, and after two years finally told Cabot they could stop water deliveries to the families who refuse to settle and will not allow testing. So Cabot stopped delivering water Nov. 30, 2011, and of course anti-drillers and the complicit media have had a field day demagoguing the issue.

The families who are suing say that their water was contaminated not only with methane, but also with chemicals from hydraulic fracturing. Cabot and the PA DEP both say after testing water in the area (those wells where they were allowed to test) that no chemicals from fracking are present—that it’s only high levels of methane, or natural gas, that is affecting water wells in the Carter Road area. Who’s right? One side or the other is wrong.

Since suspending water deliveries at the end of November, anti-drilling groups have been funding sporadic water deliveries to the families. But even that had run out…once the media stops paying attention, the groups who are using the families of Carter Road to advance their agenda disappear.

Then last Friday, Jan. 6, representatives from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told at least three Carter Road residents that the EPA themselves would begin delivering water to them. The residents were elated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has promised to deliver water to a northeastern Pennsylvania village where a natural gas driller has been accused of tainting homeowners’ wells with methane and possibly hazardous chemicals, residents said Friday.

Three Dimock residents said the EPA told them Friday that it’s hiring a private contractor to deliver water to their homes.

"We’re ecstatic that we’re at least getting our water back, that we’ll have a safe source of water," said Dimock resident Julie Sautner, who said an EPA official called Friday to tell her about the water deliveries.(1)

But on Saturday, less than 24 hours later, the EPA changed it’s mind and said they will not deliver water to Carter Road residents:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency abruptly changed its mind on Saturday about delivering fresh water to residents of a Northeastern Pennsylvania village where residential wells were found to be tainted by a natural gas drilling operation.

Only 24 hours after promising them water, EPA officials informed residents of Dimock that a tanker truck would not be coming after all — an about-face that left them furious, confused and let down and once again scrambling for water for bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets.

Agency officials would not explain why they reneged on their promise or say whether water would be delivered at some point.

"We are actively filling information gaps and determining next steps in Dimock. We have made no decision at this time to provide water," EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"What happened? Who had the power here? Who had the power to change their minds? Was it the governor? Was it somebody from Washington? Was it Cabot? What happened? We don’t know. We’re really confused," said Wendy Seymour, an organic garlic farmer.

Seymour said an EPA official in Philadelphia told her on Friday that she could expect a delivery. The next day, another EPA official called her and "apologized for the confusion" and said the agency was still assessing the situation.(2)

(1) Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin/AP (Jan 7, 2012) – EPA could send water to Pa. town with bad wells

(2) Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/AP (Jan 8, 2012) – EPA cancels water delivery to drilling-tainted Dimock