Study: Water OK in Gas Drilling Town

Monday, March 19, 2012 @ 04:03 PM gHale

Residents are crying foul, but regulators said well water testing at 11 homes in a northeastern Pennsylvania village where consumers said a gas driller was polluting the aquifer failed to show elevated levels of contamination.

Initial tests on well water at dozens of homes in Dimock, Susquehanna County, “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.”

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Dimock has been at the center of a fierce debate over the environmental and public health impacts of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling industry.

State environmental regulators had previously determined Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. contaminated the aquifer underneath homes along Carter Road in Dimock with explosive levels of methane gas. Residents who are suing Cabot assert their water also remains polluted with drilling chemicals. Other residents of Dimock say the water is clean and the plaintiffs are exaggerating problems with their wells to help their lawsuit.

The federal environmental agency began testing the water in January, more than a month after the state Department of Environmental Protection allowed Cabot to stop delivering replacement water to about a dozen families.

The EPA said water samples from six of the 11 homes for which it received initial test results showed sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but at levels that did not exceed primary or secondary drinking water standards. Arsenic was in the well water of two homes, but at levels that did not present a health hazard, regulators said.

Of the 11 homes, EPA has been delivering fresh water to three homes where it said prior test results had showed alarming levels of contamination. EPA said it will continue supplying water to the homes “while we perform additional sampling to ensure that the drinking water quality at these homes remains consistent and acceptable for use over time.”

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 at unsafe levels, including sodium and arsenic.

“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.

Cabot said in a statement it is happy with the EPA test results and the company is “steadfastly committed to environmental stewardship, collaboration with state regulators, and compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws.”

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