Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

A Guide To Dimock’s Water Problems

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Dimock PA residents Kelly Sautner and her father and mother Craig Sautner and Julie Sautner, showing their tap water sample.

Yesterday, we told you about the Department of Environmental Protection’s ruling that Cabot Oil and Gas no longer needs to supply waterto residents of Dimock, Susquehanna County

Looking for background information on Dimock and its methane migration problems? A good first stop is this April 2009 Propublica article, which labeled the community “ground zero for drilling in the Marcellus Shale.”

Norma Fiorentino’s drinking water well was a time bomb. For weeks, workers in her small northeastern Pennsylvania town had been plumbing natural gas deposits from a drilling rig a few hundred yards away. They cracked the earth and pumped in fluids to force the gas out. Somehow, stray gas worked into tiny crevasses in the rock, leaking upward into the aquifer and slipping quietly into Fiorentino’s well. Then, according to the state’s working theory, a motorized pump turned on in her well house, flicked a spark and caused a New Year’s morning blast that tossed aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds.

Fiorentino wasn’t home at the time, so it’s difficult to know exactly what happened. But afterward, state officials found methane, the largest component of natural gas, in her drinking water. If the fumes that built up in her well house had collected in her basement, the explosion could have killed her.

Ever since a water well blew up on January 1, 2009, Dimock has become a national poster child for problems associated with natural gas drilling. One of the many articles written about the township in national publications: A June 2010 Vanity Fair piece. Under Governor Rendell, DEP took an aggressive stance against Cabot.

DEP’s ruling came after the release of new information, showing methane migration has subsisted in the community, despite a moratorium on Cabot drilling. Anti-drilling activists have made it clear they’ll push back against the state’s decision, calling it their “Alamo.”

One thing’s clear. Regardless of who caused the contamination, many Dimock residents have undrinkable water, and DEP’s ruling will have major financial implications for people who need to truck in potable water, as the AP reported yesterday.

Bill Ely, 60, said the water coming out of his well looks like milk.

“You put your hand down a couple of inches and you can’t see your hand, that’s how much gas there is in it. And they’re telling me it was that way all my life,” said Ely, who has lived in the family homestead for nearly 50 years and said his well water was crystal clear until Cabot’s arrival three years ago.

If Cabot stops refilling his 550-gallon plastic “water buffalo” that supplies water for bathing and washing clothes, Ely said it will cost him $250 per week to maintain it and another $20,000 to $30,000 to install a permanent system to pipe water from an untainted spring on his land.

Ely and another resident, Victoria Switzer, said their attorneys had promised to seek an injunction in the event that DEP gave Cabot permission to halt deliveries. The attorneys did not immediately return an email and phone call seeking comment.

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