|photo provided; EPA mobile lab in Dimock, PA|
As promised, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is testing water in Dimock homes. As expected, the gas industry is fighting back, claiming whatever is in that water was already there. And to further complicate the picture, Cabot Oil and Gas CEO Dan Dingles is accusing the EPA of undercutting President Barack Obama’s “commitment” to developing the nation’s shale gas reserves.
If it weren’t in the news you’d assume this was the plot of a soon-to-be-released midwinter movie.
This week two teams of scientists began sampling well water from homes in Dimock, PA – or at least the homes they’ve been given access to. Of the 66 homeowners they contacted, EPA has received permission from 55 to conduct sampling.
EPA determined that further testing was warranted after reviewing results from testing Cabot conducted last fall. Although Cabot’s tests indicated methane may no longer be an issue, the results raised the Agency’s concern about the potential health threats posed by other contaminants in the water: arsenic, barium, a plasticizer known as DEHP, glycol compounds, manganese, phenol, sodium and others. EPA admits that some of these occur naturally, but notes that all of them are associated with gas drilling.
So why aren’t the other 11 homeowners getting their water tested? For free by scientists with no ties to the oil and gas industry?
Peer pressure, say some Dimock residents. Email and Facebook comments mention intimidation and pressure from both gas industry representatives and other residents. And while industry criticism against EPA for what they consider “meddling” is to be expected, the outcry by fellow residents against their neighbors illustrates just how deeply gas drilling can divide a community.
There are residents who support Cabot’s drilling and who, either because they already have leases or are hoping to cash in on future activities, criticize the continued attention on water problems as “baseless” and “hyped-up allegations”. These are the same folks who were outraged that the PA Department of Environmental Protection ordered Cabot to build a water line to bring fresh water to Dimock – even though Cabot would foot the bill.
Apparently nixing the water line was not enough for Enough is Enough. Their most recent campaign is “Dimock Proud”, featuring signs proclaiming that “the water IS clean and the people are friendly.”
Industry-backed Energy in Depth has been posting up a storm, claiming that the water’s safe and the testing is nothing more than politics – a “decision by EPA to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars supplying water to people who don’t need it.”
But, hey – didn’t the President of the United States just say, in his State of the Union address, that we should drill for more gas? Apparently that was the take-away message for Cabot CEO Dan Dinges. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Dinges cited Obama’s support for domestic natural gas. He criticized EPA’s water testing in Dimock as an action that threatened to “undercut the President’s stated commitment to this important resource”.
Dinges later released another statement to the press, calling EPA’s work in Dimock “more of an attempt to advance a political agenda hostile to shale gas development rather than a principled effort to address environmental concerns in the area.”
But with a file full of Pavillion, WY tests to back them up, EPA responded that its actions are based solely on science – and the law.
As for that State of the Union comment? Anyone who was listening knows that the President emphasized that any drilling would be limited by “developing this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”