What The EPA Is Saying About Dimock's Water Quality

  • Scott Detrow

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

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


Dimock, Susquehanna County is once again front and center in the debate over hydraulic fracturing today. Anti-drilling activists are descending on the community to protest the state Department of Environmental Protection’s ruling that Cabot Oil and Gas no longer has to provide water to Dimock residents whose water has been contaminated by methane.
(Behind on what’s gone wrong in Dimock? Here’s our primer.)
With Dimock’s water woes in the news, it’s worth taking a look at a letter the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent to the township’s residents. The conservative Heritage Foundation has blogged about the missive:

Dimock has become a lightning rod in the fight against the natural gas extraction technique hydraulic fracturing. Anti-natural gas activists have used the town in a years-long campaign to prevent the practice, which they insist contaminates drinking water supplies.
But the Environmental Protection Agency says otherwise. The EPA sent an email to Dimock residents informing them of the agency’s findings regarding the state of the town’s drinking water supply. “While we are continuing our review,” Community Involvement Coordinator Trish Taylor wrote, “to date, the data does not indicate that the well water [in Dimock] presents an immediate health threat to users.”
That finding supported claims by Cabot Oil and Gas, which has been sued by Dimock residents. A judge from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently ruled that Cabot had satisfied its requirements under the law to provide potable water to Dimock residents, and the company has announced plans to discontinue water deliveries.
EPA’s findings comport with administrator Lisa Jackson’s previous statements regarding the effects – or lack thereof – of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. Earlier this year, Jackson told a House committee that she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

StateImpact has seen the letter, too. A few things are worth clarifying:

    • The letter isn’t a final ruling on Dimock’s water issues. The EPA says it will “continue to review available information related to the concerns of Dimock area residents.”
    • EPA is not working off its own independent data here. Rather, it is reviewing and screening testing samples collected by DEP.
    • Finally, the EPA statement that water does not “present an immediate threat” is not exactly a full endorsement of the water quality.

So: the EPA letter is an indication that the situation is improving in Dimock. But it’s far from a federal seal of approval that the township’s problems have been solved. (StateImpact has left a message with the EPA coordinator who wrote the letter, and will update this post if and when he gets back to us.) Reporter Susan Phillips is covering the protests in Susquehanna County, and will provide updates later today.

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