AP’s Newest Non-Story About Dimock, PA

From time to time, the Associated Press will write a story about the gas drilling issue. Because a huge number of newspapers in the U.S. subscribe to the AP service, they run the story and overnight a single story, or various versions of the story, is run in hundreds of newspapers nationwide creating an echo chamber making it seem as if it’s new news. It’s happened again with another non-story about Dimock, PA. By now most MDN readers will know what Dimock is about—an attempt to create a link between hydraulic fracturing and chemical contamination of a water aquifer. If you need a background on the controversy, click here for MDN’s stories on Dimock.

The latest non-story story from the AP is an announcement that the EPA, that has been conducting water testing in the Dimock area, will release its first test results this week. That’s the sum total of the news in the story. But the AP story includes lots of background and fluff. One of the interesting backgrounder interviews is with a geologist from northeastern PA near Dimock:

Brian Oram, an independent geologist and water consultant from northeastern Pennsylvania, said he is puzzled by the agency’s rationale for being in Dimock, since the substances that EPA said it’s most concerned about are naturally occurring and commonly found in northeastern Pennsylvania groundwater. By that standard, EPA would have to deliver water to thousands of households, he said.

Nevertheless, Oram supports the EPA testing because it will provide water quality data the parties can trust, and against which future drilling can be measured.

"It would have been nice if they came out and said the real reason (for the testing) was to put this to bed, find out what’s going on … (and) create a baseline that would allow us to move forward," said Oram, who has looked at the data cited by EPA. "That makes more reasonable sense for why EPA walked into Dimock. If you base EPA’s decision on the presence of manganese and sodium and arsenic, it makes no sense."

The testing will give residents a snapshot of their water. What it won’t tell them is how any contaminants found in the water got there.*

A rather bald admission in that last line—that the EPA’s tests won’t tell us how what is in Dimock water wells actually got there. Which begs the question, then why is the EPA testing in the first place?

As an aside, to put Dimock into perspective, even if it were proven beyond a shadow of doubt that water wells in the Dimock area were contaminated by fracking, as tragic as that would be, it would be the first known case—out of millions of fracked wells—where an aquifer was contaminated from fracking. That is, Dimock doesn’t prove that fracking is unsafe, which is what anti-drillers are desperately trying to do.

But it’s all academic at this point. Let’s see what the meddling EPA has to say later this week.

*El Paso Times/AP (Mar 5, 2012) – EPA testing in Dimock, Pa., feeds drilling debate