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Hanger Slams CBS for Dimock Story

Susan Phillips/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Former DEP Secretary John Hanger testifies at an air quality hearing.

Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger says CBS “botched” a piece about Dimock’s water contamination. The report aired on Saturday, and the link has no byline, but from the host intro, it sounds like the reporter’s name is Tony Gadda. (a search of his name with different spellings didn’t turn up anything on the CBS website)
The reporter made a common mistake, he turned methane migration into fracking, despite Hanger’s best efforts to the contrary.
What gets Hanger’s goat the most is that the CBS piece makes a direct link between Dimock’s water contamination and fracking. Immediately after making that connection, the camera goes to Hanger himself who says “there are 18 water wells that have been impacted by poor gas drilling in Dimock.”
That “poor gas drilling” had to do with the cement casings, which Hanger found caused methane to leak into the water supplies, not fracking fluid.  Although playing a scene of flaming taps from Gasland, the piece didn’t make a distinction between methane contamination and groundwater contamination due to fracking fluids. But the piece does have this curious note about the drilling process:

“Its at the surface where spills and blowouts cause chemically infused water to seep into the water table….”

Some Dimock residents say their water is not simply contaminated with high levels of methane, but also contains toxic chemicals used in the fracking process. It’s not clear whether that contamination could have been caused by surface spills, or fracking fluid migrating into the aquifer, or neither. Both the DEP and Cabot deny that fracking itself caused any contamination in Dimock. The DEP never changed its mind about Cabot’s drilling practices. It only changed its mind about forcing Cabot to supply fresh water to affected homeowners.
(DEP’s agreement with Cabot dictating water deliveries was put in place during the final weeks of the Rendell Administration. An earlier consent order between the agency and driller included water tests as one of the conditions Cabot needed to meet before it could stop delivering water. That provision was later removed. We explain how and why Cabot stopped delivering water in this post.)
Frustrated residents took their case to The Environmental Protection Agency. The CBS piece does get it right that the EPA does not seem so convinced Dimock’s water is safe to drink.  In a recent statement, the EPA lists a number of cancer-causing toxins found in Dimock water wells that could have come from the fracking process. The EPA decided to deliver water to four residents, and test the well water of 66 households. Results of those tests should be available in about five weeks. But even if the findings show the water unsafe for human consumption, expect the debate over how those chemicals ended up in the water wells along Carter Road, to continue.

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