Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP’s Dimock Decision Based On 2010 Agreement, Not Water Quality

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Actor Mark Ruffalo holds up a jug of water drawn from a well in Dimock, Pa. Ruffalo spoke at a rally this week after helping deliver fresh water to affected residents.

As anti-natural gas drilling protesters converged on Dimock, Susquehanna County this week to protest the Department of Environmental Protection granting Cabot Oil and Gas the right to stop delivering water to families whose water supply was contaminated, many activists on either side of the issue viewed the DEP decision as an endorsement of the community’s current water quality.

In fact, DEP’s decision allowing Cabot to stop providing water to Dimock residents had nothing to do with whether or not methane levels have increased or decreased at the affected water wells. “The [Consent Order and Agreement] didn’t require DEP to deem the water safe before permitting Cabot to stop delivering water,” explained department spokeswoman Katy Gresh via email.

Indeed, a December 2010 agreement between DEP and Cabot required the company to continue providing potable water to affected Dimock residents “until Cabot [received] written notice from the Department that it has complied” with a set list of requirements.  Improved water quality was not among the criteria.

DEP began investigating Cabot after a January 1, 2009 explosion at a Dimock resident’s water well. State inspectors documented multiple violations at Cabot wells, including faulty well casings, spilled diesel fuel and spilled drilling mud. DEP also documented high methane levels and “combustible gas” in water wells located near Cabot drilling sites. In the initial Consent Order and Agreement between DEP and Cabot, dated November 4, 2009, the agency determined, “the presence of dissolved methane and/or combustible gas in the 10 Affected Water Supplies occurred within six months of completion of drilling of one or more of the Cabot Wells. As such, Cabot is presumed to be responsible for the pollution to these 10 Affected Water Supplies.”

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Norma Fiorentino is one of several Dimock residents challenging DEP's decision to allow Cabot Oil and Gas to halt water deliveries.

Cabot signed onto this document, which ordered the driller to

  • immediately stop drilling for natural gas within the “affected area” around Dimock
  • improve its well casing procedures
  • provide potable water for impacted residents
  • submit a plan to permanently “restore or replace” these residents’ water sources

Unlike the later December 2010 agreement – which we’ll get into shortly – the initial Consent Order and Agreement (COA) required Cabot to continue providing water to Dimock residents until, “the Department notifies Cabot, in writing, that the Department has determined that the Affected Water Supply has been restored such that Cabot is no longer required to provide such purchased water.” In other words, DEP would test the water sources.

“18 of these families had their water contaminated by gas migrating from poorly constructed gas wells. DEP found this repeatedly,” said former DEP Secretary John Hanger, who ran the department during the last two years of the Rendell Administration.  “Testing removed the possibility that this was preexisting gas.” Cabot has disputed this conclusion, releasing multiple studies showing methane migration is a common, natural occurrence in the Dimock area.

In 2010, the COA between Cabot and DEP was revised twice. The final agreement, reached in December, is the document dictating the agency’s current stance. In it, Cabot makes it clear the company disagrees with DEP’s findings, “however, Cabot agrees to and shall fullfil all of the terms and obligations of this Consent Order and Agreement Settlement.” The December 2010 document laid out harsh penalties for the driller. It required Cabot to pay the impacted families settlements worth twice their property values, a total Hanger said exceeded $4 million. But the document did not include water testing as a criteria for Cabot to stop providing clean water to the impacted families.

Instead, Cabot had to fulfill the following obligations:

  • deposit the settlement money into escrow accounts
  • notify the families and DEP that the money was available
  • install a “gas mitigation device” (a water filter) at each residence

In October, Cabot informed DEP it had met all these requirements, and asked for permission to stop delivering water to the Dimock families. Acting Deputy Secretary Scott Perry approved the request, and Cabot stopped providing water on December 1. In a letter to the Chambersburg Public Opinion, Secretary Mike Krancer defended the decision. “We were guided by a legal agreement dating to the previous administration,” he wrote. “The agreement…required Cabot to satisfy specific water provision obligations and meet certain requirements….Cabot satisfied those requirements, and the law, in turn, requires DEP to follow its obligations.”

In a statement, Cabot said it “continues to offer to install DEP-approved water treatment systems to affected residents. Residents across the Commonwealth have successfully used filtration systems as the time-tested solution to remove methane from water.” The statement continued,” all of the homeowners who accepted the methane treatment systems in Dimock have seen a 96%-98% reduction in methane concentrations.” But several families have refused Cabot’s offers, saying the filtration systems will not remove harmful chemicals.

DEP’s decision did not sit well with several impacted families. At the rally on Tuesday, residents held up a jug full of murky water they say came from their well. Craig Sautner challenged DEP Secretary Michael Krancer to drink his water.

“He says there’s nothing wrong with the water in Dimock. Does that water look like there’s nothing wrong with it? Does he drink it?”

Is the water safe? While DEP has not been conducting tests, Cabot has provided water samples to state-laboratories. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed the data, and found the water “does not indicate an immediate health threat to well water users.” In a statement, the agency said it “will continue to review the latest information,” noting it had received more than 300 pages of well water data from Dimock residents.

Several Dimock residents express scepticism about Cabot’s tests. Ray Kemble says he never gave Cabot permission to go on his land and test his water.

“They come here and think they own the place just because you signed a lease with them,” said Kemble.

Kemble’s well is now disconnected from his house, and he gets water from a water buffalo that stores trucked in water. He says he didn’t see where Cabot workers took water samples, and doesn’t trust the lab results.

Kemble and ten other Dimock families are challenging the DEP decision. At an Environmental Hearing Board yesterday, they asked a judge to overturn the agency’s ruling. As the Scranton Times-Tribune wrote,

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization, joined the families’ attorneys Wednesday in asking the judge to reverse the state’s determination that Cabot fulfilled the terms of a December 2010 settlement allowing the deliveries to stop. Further, the attorneys asked the judge to throw out the “illegal” section of the settlement that fell short of state laws requiring drillers to “restore or replace” water they damage.

The attorneys argued the state wrongly ignored the harm the families would suffer if forced to drink well water they said contains contaminants including metals, solvents and manufactured chemicals at levels above state and federal drinking water standards.

Comments

  • Mike Knapp

    I think this article is missing just a bit of context.  The DEP acknowledged a long time ago that methane was the only contaminant that was of concern.  Methane is easily removed by installing a filtration system designed for that purpose.  Herego, if Cabot offered and installed methane removal systems, and redesigned their well standards to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, all would be well and they could go about their business.  As mentioned in the article, the systems remove 96-98% of the methane.

    DEP didn’t require Cabot to remove the methane from the aquifer, as this can be tricky or impossible.  They required Cabot to do everything in their power to TRY to fix it.  Thankfully, it did indeed work and methane levels are back to background levels.  What’s puzzling is why DEP required Cabot to deliver water as long as they did. 

    I don’t have the info in front of me, but I bet that during the time between the original COA and the revised COA, methane levels were already dropping significantly, which was evidence that the conditions originally imposed were working or had already worked.  As such, there was no need to specifically address “water quality” in the revised COA. 

    If the water was believed by DEP to be degraded to an unsafe level by Cabot, there is no way, shape, or form in which they would have granted Cabot the ability to discontinue water deliveries.  This is further evidenced by the EPA’s comments on the matter.

    Bottom line:  The water is safe to drink in Dimock. 

    Mike Knapp
    President
    Knapp Acquisitions & Production
    Kittanning, PA

    • Scott Detrow

      Thanks for the comment, Mike.

    • Contaminatedwaterindimock

      If there’s no problem with the water in Dimock, then why don’t you come and drink it yourself. Then take it home with you and shower in it for a couple of months. You’ll be changing your tune. 

    • John Trallo

      What’s puzzling is why a guy like Mike Knapp chooses to ignore the rest of the data. Could it possibly be his personal financial interest in natural gas development? Hmmm… let’s look at the facts regarding the water samples in Dimock.
       

      As the data stands now, there are five major problems with reaching the conclusion that Dimock groundwater is not contaminated. These are: 1) there is no location map or key to inform the reader as to where all the assorted sample sites are, 2) many area wells known to be adversely affected were not sampled, 3) visually obvious MCL violations were ignored, 4) the conclusions reached have failed to factor in the hydrogeologic setting and groundwater flow, and 5) Cabot’s own data reveals existing contamination in excess of State MCL drinking water quality standards.

      Recent Example Violations of Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) Drinking Water Quality Standard Thresholds

      Looking first at the Sautner well, Cabot’s recent data shows the iron level to be 5000 ug/l, some 16.7 times the MCL of 300 ug/l. Three other sample locations in Cabot’s recent data set
      also reveal iron concentrations ranging from 3.7 to 5.3 times the MCL standard (e.g., Roos well). Five sample locations, including Sautner, were found to have manganese concentrations of up to 4 times the PA MCL drinking water standard for manganese of 50 ug/l. The Carter well was found to have lead and manganese at levels of 5 and 2.6 times State MCL levels and iron at 5.7 times the PA State MCL standard. These are all obvious violations of PA Safe Drinking Water Regulation standards.
      Let’s take a look at water from theScott Ely well that Cabot and the State of PA have determined is now suitable for ingestion. Prior to gas drilling activities, Scott Ely’s groundwater was clear, potable, and did not require filtration. This is it here now in this one gallon jug (hold up water sample). As I tell you only some of what is in it, consider whether you would allow yourself and your family to drink and bathe in it. Within the last two weeks, this water sample was found to have lead and manganese at 5.8 and 10 times State MCL levels and arsenic at 15 times the State MCL level. Data received within the last few hours revealed an aluminum concentration of 28 mg/l, some 140 times the State MCL. This is cause for great concern. Aluminum is a potent neurotoxin that may be linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s like health symptoms. Similarly, iron was detected at 34 mg/l, some 113 times the State MCL Safe Drinking Water standard. While all analyses have not been completed, preliminary findings also indicate the presence of low level hexanes, octanes, and decanes. However, the high pH of the water indicates the presence of SIGNIFICANT other frack-related chemicals that are both unknown and untested –chemical compounds that do not have MCLs – chemicals that potentially present long-term chronic exposure to toxins and carcinogens.Let’s take a look at water from theScott Ely well that Cabot and the State of PA have determined is now suitable for ingestion. Prior to gas drilling activities, Scott Ely’s groundwater was clear, potable, and did not require filtration. This is it here now in this one gallon jug (hold up water sample). As I tell you only some of what is in it, consider whether you would allow yourself and your family to drink and bathe in it. Within the last two weeks, this water sample was found to have lead and manganese at 5.8 and 10 times State MCL levels and arsenic at 15 times the State MCL level. Data received within the last few hours revealed an aluminum concentration of 28 mg/l, some 140 times the State MCL. This is cause for great concern. Aluminum is a potent neurotoxin that may be linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s like health symptoms. Similarly, iron was detected at 34 mg/l, some 113 times the State MCL Safe Drinking Water standard. While all analyses have not been completed, preliminary findings also indicate the presence of low level hexanes, octanes, and decanes. However, the high pH of the water indicates the presence of SIGNIFICANT other frack-related chemicals that are both unknown and untested –chemical compounds that do not have MCLs – chemicals that potentially present long-term chronic exposure to toxins and carcinogens.So, if the only problem is methane, perhpas Mike Knapp should do what Cabot and the DEP don’t have the guts to do. Put your money where your mouth is… literally, and drink it. If it’s good enough for the residents of Carter Rd., it’s good enough for you, right?  

      The Carter well was found to have lead and manganese at levels of 5 and 2.6 times State MCL levels and iron at 5.7 times the PA State MCL standard.
      These are all obvious violations of PA Safe Drinking Water Regulation standards.

      Let’s take a look at water from theScott Ely well that Cabot and the State of PA have determined is now suitable for ingestion. Prior to gas drilling activities, Scott Ely’s groundwater was clear, potable, and did not require filtration. This is it here now in this one gallon jug (hold up water sample). As I tell you only some of what is in it, consider whether you would allow yourself and your family to drink and bathe in it. Within the last two weeks, this water sample was found to have lead and manganese at 5.8 and 10 times State MCL levels and arsenic at 15 times the State MCL level. Data received within the last few hours revealed an aluminum concentration of 28 mg/l, some 140 times the State MCL. This is cause for great concern. Aluminum is a potent neurotoxin that may be linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s like health symptoms. Similarly, iron was detected at 34 mg/l, some 113 times the State MCL Safe Drinking Water standard. While all analyses have not been completed, preliminary findings also indicate the presence of low level hexanes, octanes, and decanes. However, the high pH of the water indicates the presence of SIGNIFICANT other frack-related chemicals that are both unknown and untested –chemical compounds that do not have MCLs – chemicals that potentially present long-term chronic exposure to toxins and carcinogens.
      Let’s take a look at water from theScott Ely well that Cabot and the State of PA have determined is now suitable for ingestion. Prior to gas drilling activities, Scott Ely’s groundwater was clear, potable, and did not require filtration. This is it here now in this one gallon jug (hold up water sample). As I tell you only some of what is in it, consider whether you would allow yourself and your family to drink and bathe in it. Within the last two weeks, this water sample was found to have lead and manganese at 5.8 and 10 times State MCL levels and arsenic at 15 times the State MCL level. Data received within the last few hours revealed an aluminum concentration of 28 mg/l, some 140 times the State MCL. This is cause for great concern. Aluminum is a potent neurotoxin that may be linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s like health symptoms. Similarly, iron was detected at 34 mg/l, some 113 times the State MCL Safe Drinking Water standard. While all analyses have not been completed, preliminary findings also indicate the presence of low level hexanes, octanes, and decanes. However, the high pH of the water indicates the presence of SIGNIFICANT other frack-related chemicals that are both unknown and untested –chemical compounds that do not have MCLs – chemicals that potentially present long-term chronic exposure to toxins and carcinogens.

      So, if the only problem is methane, perhpas Mike Knapp should do what Cabot and the DEP don’t have the guts to do. Put your money where your mouth is… literally, and drink it. If it’s good enough for the residents of Carter Rd., it’s good enough for you, right?  

    • Anonymous

      It is interesting that even USEPA is stating the information is in the review stage but Mike knows it all. 

  • Mike Wagner

    It’s a good thing that US EPA is intervening.  There is so much industry propaganda and non transparency of PA DEP (not to mention the apparent conflict of interest that the Governor Corbett has based on industry donations to his campaign).   The water in Dimrock was contaminated by the developer and it is not safe to drink.  Don’t believe a word from Mr. Knapp who has stated the words ‘public relations’ and ‘psy ops’ are synonyms.  

  • SJANDAT3
  • SJANDAT3

    HEY MIKE KNAPP…THERE IS MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE THAN ELEVATED METHANE LEVELS IN THAT WATER (see the links below)…THESE ARE THE OFFICIAL RESULTS OF THE WATER TESTS TAKEN ON THE WELLS OF THE 11 FAMILIES THAT DEP CLAIMS THEIR WATER IS SAFE TO DRINK…SAFE???  LEAD AND MAGNESIUM 10X’S THE STATE LIMIT/  ARSENIC AT 15X’S GREATER THAN THE STATE MCL LIMIT ALLOWS/ ALUMINUM AT 140X’S THE STATE MCL  LIMIT (ALUMINUM HAS BEEN LINKED TO ALZHEIMER’S AND AUTISM) / IRON 115X’S THE MCL STATE LIMIT…AND MANY OTHER TOXINS AND  CARCINOGENS!   (A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer.)

    I BELIEVE YOU ARE GRASPING AT STRAWS MIKE KNAPP!!!  THIS WATER IS CLEARLY UNSAFE TO DRINK!  UNSAFE TO BATH! UNFIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTIONS..BUT..MAYBE YOU ARE GETTING CONFUSED..SINCE THAT IS WHAT IT SAID ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE WATER BUFFALO’S THAT CABOT WAS PROVIDING..OH WAIT!..I’M SORRY..THEY READ…NOT SAFE FOR ‘ANIMAL’ CONSUMPTION!! OOOPS..MY BAD!

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B9tP1cRHZ8J_ODFhYmQzOWItYjk3MS00ZDljLTkyNmUtMThiYmE4ZTZjNjU1&hl=en_US http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZSQS6baKyQ&feature=p

    • Mike Knapp

      I prefer to get my information from unbiased sources, like the DEP, the EPA, and independent 3rd party accredited water testing labs.  Not from lawyers and litigants who stand to make many millions of dollars, and “environmental consultants” looking to make a name for themselves.   The DEP required Cabot to provide water for the better part of three years, and remediation orders costing Cabot tens of millions or dollars.   Why, if DEP doesn’t feel the water is safe, would they up and decide to allow the practice to stop?   Why, if frac water contaminated the aquifers in Dimock, are we not seeing elevated chloride levels?   Frac water is many times saltier than salt water.  If frac fluid got into the aquifer, you’d see high salt conditions, like in Pavillion, WY. 

      • Anonymous

        Bottom line Mike. Were these sample filtered before being analyzed?

        As far as what Cabot did:

        1. Did Cabot characterize the vertical and horizontal extent of the groundwater contamination as normal PADEP investigations are done?

        2. If the above was done, did Cabot make a plan to abate the feasible groundwater contamination plume?

        3. Did Cabot provide adequate short term (bottled water) and plans for long term (drinking water lines or permanent point treatment units with sampling) measures?

        Seems like none of these were done as typically required by PADEP and USEPA in other programs. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

      • Anonymous

        The EPA states that the samples are currently being reviewed. I don’t believe you (or myself) knows if “total” samples have been (or not) provided for EPA review. Read the memo again.

  • GetTheFacts

    come and drink it.  Do you tell everyone that you never drank your water that you always had bottled water?  Why is it that you have never shown your test results?  Why is it that the media never films the water that comes from your well?  When the water is filmed it’s clear then a cut scene to the brown jug.  Oh no wait.  You had a utube video done where it was clear and you were complaining that it had no methane in it.  Why don’t you pay that lawyer bill and take the treatment system.  You have twice the assessed value plus someone else offered you the assed value in cash.  Take it and go.  You make claims that people who come on your property get it ill just from being on the property.  Then you tell people to come with children and make sure you bring food and snacks and lots of water give you money too.  Is you pay pal set up?  Hope you pay your taxes on it.  Pay the lawyer!!!

  • Anonymous

    Mike Knapp:

    Are you now backtracking? A few posts ago you seemed to say EPA said nothing is wrong with the samples, yet EPA admits they have not completed a review of the data. If the samples were filtered prior to the analysis then the methane (and other organics) would have been removed prior to the analysis. The metals would be significantly decreased and would never be appropriate to compare with drinking water levels. Any sampler with over a wek experience would know this. Therefore, if Cabot did filter the samples (1) they did it out of total ignorance on how to sample correctly or (2) they purposely tried to reduce the sample concentrations. Again, here is the requirement (and common sense)  that supplements the normal sampling of residential wells.

    A bit more on the sample preparation that might have been done inappropriately at Dimock. Note section (d) that is cited. Samples for drinking water are NOT to be filtered.
     
    § 250.10. Measurement of regulated substances in media. (a)  For measuring regulated substances in soil and sediments, analyses shall be performed on a dry weight basis.  (b)  For metals in soil, analyses shall be performed on total metals, except for hexavalent and trivalent chromium, which analyses shall be performed individually.  (c)  For groundwater, samples for metals analysis shall be field filtered and field acidified in accordance with the most current version of the Groundwater Monitoring Guidance Manual, Department of Environmental Protection, 3610-BK-DEP1973.  (d)  For groundwater where monitoring is being performed at a drinking water well, samples for metals analysis shall be field acidified and unfiltered in accordance with the most current version of Groundwater Monitoring Guidance Manual, Department of Environmental Protection, 3610-BK-DEP1973.  (e)  For surface water, samples for metals analysis shall be field acidified in accordance with approved EPA analytical methods in §  16.102 (relating to approved EPA analytical methods and detection limits).  (f)  For air, samples and analyses shall be performed in accordance with Chapters 131 and 139 (relating to ambient air quality standards; and sampling and testing).

    • Mike Knapp

      The EPA used samples obtained by state certified water testing labs. 

      • Anonymous

        That’s not the answer although would like to know what lab since you seem to be positive on the samples. My posts was that IF they were FILTERED before analysis. All the organics would be removed and the metals significantly reduced. Most samplers would know better than to filter residential samples and then compare to risk levels. Sorry but you did not come close to answering my post.

        d) For groundwater where monitoring is being performed at a drinking water well, samples for metals analysis shall be field acidified and unfiltered in accordance with the most current version of Groundwater Monitoring Guidance Manual, Department of Environmental Protection, 3610-BK-DEP1973

  • Anonymous

    As far as “difficult to impossible” to remove methane, normal levels if they exist at all are likely in the parts per billion range. These elevated levels can likely be easily removed with treatment units.For your education, go down the road a few miles to the Ivy Industrial Park where a cooperative and complex organic solvent problem is being resolved. Go further south to Mountaintop where Foster Wheeler is also cleaning up an organic problem. Then go further south to Valmont TCE Superfund site for another successful organic problem being assessed and corrected. If your company is in the business of assessment and abatement of groundwater problems have a suggestion. Go back to school, hire a COMPETENT geologist, spend less time whining on the Internet, and learn from past successes and mistakes of those that know what they are doing.

  • Penguin5b

    NPR needs to be defunded NOW. Let’s see…George Soros, ultra-progressive, ultra liberal, gives 1.8 million to NPR to start his pet project called “State Impact”. Now go to the NPR site, specifically the State Impact area. Look who else is currently funding it:

    Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
    Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation
    The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
    The Melville Charitable Trust
    Open Society Foundation
    The Wallace Foundation
    Ultra progressives all. Now, does any honest-thinking person actually believe that reporting born of this parentage will be fair and balanced? Anyone? If you doubt me just visit the sites of the 8 different states covered by State Impact and look at the issues focused on and the slanted coverage thereof.

    Here in PA the major focus is drilling the Marcellus shale. EVERY SINGLE STORY is a hit piece against the industry and are little more than op/ed columns. State Impact? Couldn’t “impact” be both good and bad? Then where are the stories about how drilling has benefited PA? Jobs, tax revenue, economic plusses, less reliance on foreign energy, among others. Surely these things should rate at least a story or two every now and then.

    But I’m sure Scott Detrow and Suzy Phillps would like to keep their jobs. And when your bosses are Soros and Ann Beeson, well you just better be sure to toe the line.

    So how about it Scott &Suzy? How about a little balance? Surely not every person in PA is against drilling. Maybe you could find a few and stick your mic in their faces, as repulsive as you find this to be. You see, if you really want your stories to have the “impact” that Soros/Beeson intended with their grant, here’s what to do: Practice some honest, objective journalism and print of few of those stories I mentioned. That way, your hit pieces will actually have more legitimacy by comparison. Get it? I’m not sure that Soros/Beeson will be pleased, but if they remove you from the project at least you’ll have the satisfaction that you actually performed what you got into the journalism business to do – tell the truth.

  • Littlegert

    I take it the escrow accounts set up for the effected families was not used by all of them and they are not accpeting any royalty checks either? Having watched some of them speak in Binghamton last night none of this is brought to light, it is their decision to stay in their homes at this point?

  • Scohen3

    Why doth Mike protest so much?? 

  • Kellyz

    I am so disgusted with the greed prevalent in all of these profracking decisions.The evidence is clear. The EPA has been bought.There is a special place in hell for all of those pushing for hydrofracking and their money won’t help them there. Meanwhile they work on ruining the Earth for a few dollars….sickening.                  Lisa AZ

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