Pennsylvania Town Continues Fracking Fight for Clean Water

The fracking debate rages on. Whether or not you support hydraulic fracturing or are strongly opposed, the residents of Dimock, Penn., don’t care – the proof is in the water. Dimock’s 1,400 residents question the safety of its well water, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been dragging its feet deciding whether or not to truck fresh water to residents and determining whether or not the town’s drinking water contains toxic level chemicals.

For those unfamiliar with the hydraulic fracturing, or the more commonly known fracking, process, it involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into deep methane-rich shale formations underground to release natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Department, fracking accounts for about a third of the U.S. gas supply, which is a 14 percent increase from 2009 figures. The Obama administration has advocated for fracking in the U.S. to release the nation’s natural gas, thus reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and coal which has a long list of harmful effects.

Frustrated Dimock residents are not consuming the (potentially toxic) brown water dripping from faucets and surviving thanks to bottled water provided by Cabot Oil & Gas Co. Cabot Oil & Gas Co. is at the center of the contamination allegations since Dimock  residents reported brown water spewing out of their faucets years ago. In April 2010, the company settled with the state over methane contamination in 14 water wells in Dimock, and has since postponed drilling there.

According to the Sept. 9, 2011 notice of violation cited to Cabot Oil and Gas Co., the company failed to prevent the migration of gas or other fluids into sources of fresh groundwater, allowed defective casing or cementing and was responsible for unpermitted discharge of polluting substances in a private water supply serving residents in Susquehanna County, Penn. View a copy of the notice here.

According to the notice, methane levels in the private water supply increased from 0.290 milligrams per Liter in the pre-drill sample collected on Nov. 11, 2010 to 49.200 milligrams per Liter in a sample collected on Aug. 16, 2011, and 657.600 milligrams per Liter in a sample collected on Aug. 18, 2011.

If you haven’t been briefed on the town of Dimock, read a profile by Vanity Fair magazine from 2010. Dimock residents have voiced fracking concerns to Pennsylvania legislators for several years now and have experienced the negative effects associated with the hydraulic fracturing process.

On Jan. 18, some Dimock residents marched to Albany, N.Y., to voice concerns related to fracking; informing  New York state legislators about their personal water contamination issues believed to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing. Dimock residents displayed samples of brown tinted water from their home wells at the public meeting. New York legislators are in the process of creating a moratorium to move forward with fracking within the state, only this time, follow regulation and monitoring that the Pennsylvania hydraulic fracturing process lacked. 

Some facking supporters scrutinize media for the constant sensationalism and exaggerations surrounding the water contamination debate – case in point, an article citing the documentary Gasland as popularizing the methane leaking issue. Really? The issue has nothing to do with pop culture’s influence, but stems from concerned citizens.

Recent U.K. geologists have chimed in on the whole process and deem it “safe.” “Most geologists think this is a pretty safe activity,” Mike Stephenson, head of energy science at the British Geological Survey, said at a briefing in London. “We think the risk is pretty low and we have the scientific tools to tell if there is a problem.”

As recent controversy circulates over the safety of fracking, in the United States, the EPA is still studying the effects to determine whether or not the process should continue and distributed a press release addressing the Dimock, fracking disaster before taking action by hauling fresh water to residents.

“EPA is working diligently to understand the situation in Dimock and address residents’ concerns,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin in the press release. “We believe that the information provided to us by the residents deserves further review, and conducting our own sampling will help us fill information gaps. Our actions will be based on the science and the law and we will work to help get a more complete picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock.”

The EPA is monitoring the progress of the groundwater study in Dimock, Penn. online. View all updates provided by the EPA’s testing process here.

The EPA stated in the release that sampling of Dimock water will begin in a matter of days and last approximately three weeks and lab validated results should be available in approximately five weeks following sample date.

However, the EPA is also studying groundwater in Wyoming – where Encana Corp. heads the fracking process – and an estimate for groundwater results could take years. The Wyoming results will not be available until 2014.

Before comments flood the site, know that I am not for, nor against fracking. I am interested in the research that confirms or denies potential health risks directly linked to the fracking process.

* Editor’s note: The Environmental Protection Blog contains opinions expressed by the authors addressing current environmental issues. Opinions do not represent the overall opinions of Environmental Protection Online. Anyone with questions pertaining to blog posts is encouraged to directly contact authors. Christina Miralla can be reached at 

Posted by Christina Miralla on Jan 20, 2012