Water test results from the federal Environmental Protection Agency confirm what the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection has said all along: Well water in Dimock, PA has not been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The PA DEP investigated claims from some Dimock residents that their water had been contaminated by gas drilling done by Cabot Oil & Gas.
In 2010 the DEP found that Cabot’s drilling had led to methane (natural gas) migration into 19 area water wells—something that Cabot still disputes as the area has been known for decades to contain methane in its water supplies. Methane is harmless to drink, but it is an explosion hazard, so the DEP ordered Cabot to pay the affected homeowners twice the value of their property and install a methane filtration system on each home’s water supply (wells or springs). Eleven of the 19 families affected refused the settlement and decided instead to sue Cabot, holding out for a bigger pay day.
The water wells around Dimock have been tested and re-tested numerous times, and the results all indicate the same thing: No problems with the water—at least not problems caused by drilling.
This is the email sent by the EPA spokesperson for Region 3 of the EPA yesterday:
On Jan. 19, as a result of requests from residents and a review of the data we had in hand, EPA announced it would perform water sampling at approximately 60 homes in the Carter Road/Meshoppen Creek Road area of Dimock, Pa. to further assess whether any residents are being exposed to hazardous substances that cause health concerns.
The first round of sampling results is now available for the first 11 homes that were tested during the week of Jan. 23. Sampling results from these 11 homes did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern. Samples from six of the 11 homes did show concentrations of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but concentrations were all within the safe range for drinking water. The sampling results also identified the presence of arsenic at two homes.
Out of the 11 homes tested, there are currently three homes receiving an alternate water supply provided by EPA. EPA will continue to provide water to these homes while we perform additional sampling to ensure that the drinking water quality at these homes remains consistent and acceptable for use over time. EPA is also taking a second round of samples from the two homes where arsenic was detected, and although the levels meet water standards, we will resample to better characterize the water quality of these wells. After receiving results from the second round of sampling, EPA will re-evaluate the need to continue providing an alternate water source.
EPA has offered to meet with all the residents to go over their data and answer any health-related concerns. As further quality assured data becomes available for the remaining homes, we will share with the homeowners in an expedited manner. Our actions will continue to be based on the science and the law as we work to help get a clear picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock.
EPA Region 3 Press Officer
Office of Public Affairs
Not surprisingly, those families suing Cabot are not happy:
Dimock resident Scott Ely, who is among the plaintiffs suing Cabot, disputed the EPA interpretation of his test results. He said the results showed a range of contaminants, including sodium and arsenic, that were at unsafe levels.
"We’ve had hundreds of tests done out here, and we’ve had so many different scientists say you have bad water here, there’s not a doubt about it. And yet when the state and feds test our water, they say we can drink it," said Ely, who plans to meet with the EPA to review the test results. "Absolutely not."*
Incidentally, chromium and arsenic are not chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—they’re naturally occurring (see the MDN list here of chemicals that are used). Although Mr. Ely’s water may have low levels of substances he doesn’t want his children drinking (who would?!), the point is, how did the chemicals in his particular well get there? The DEP and now the EPA has said, not from fracking.
A hat tip and thank you to Energy in Depth – Northeast Marcellus Initiative for a copy of the EPA email.
*The Philadelphia Enquirer/AP (Mar 15, 2012) – EPA: Water quality OK in Pa. gas drilling town
More articles on the EPA’s Dimock water test results:
- Wilkes-Barre The Citizens’ Voice (Mar 16, 2012) – First 11 Dimock homes sampled by EPA show no health concerns
- StateImpact (Mar 15, 2012) – EPA’s Test Results Show Safe Drinking Water in Dimock