DEP, Cabot argue over Dimock water contamination

Ted Baird
Published: October 20, 2010

The state Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. traded barbs Tuesday about the scope, cause and solution for methane contamination in 18 residential water wells in Dimock Township.

The state agency and the natural gas drilling company have been arguing via press releases and advertisements since late last month when DEP announced that Pennsylvania American Water Co. will construct a new, 5.5-mile water main from its Lake Montrose treatment plant to provide water to the affected families, and Cabot would be made to pick up the tab.

“DEP was forced to take action since Cabot continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, despite overwhelming evidence of its responsibility,” DEP Secretary John Hanger said in a letter released widely on Tuesday and circulated over the weekend in Susquehanna County.

“Since that announcement was made, Cabot has launched a public relations campaign and much misinformation has been brought forth concerning who will be party to that solution and who will end up paying for it.”

In a press release also sent Tuesday, Cabot spokesman George Stark said that water tests performed by Cabot and DEP showed only four of the 18 water wells have methane at levels exceeding the 28 milligrams per liter limit suggested by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining. He also said the company, which maintains it did not cause the methane contamination, has provided “substantial and persuasive proof that methane gas has been present in water wells in and around the Dimock area for generations.”

Hanger said in an interview Tuesday that Cabot “unfortunately” continues to deny responsibility and the company’s data “must be examined through that prism.”

The state’s environmental oversight agency determined that excessive pressures and faulty casings in 14 of Cabot’s natural gas wells caused methane from a rock layer above the Marcellus Shale to seep into residential water supplies.

The state’s evidence includes video recordings of gas bubbling between the casing in Cabot’s wells and high pressure readings “that could only exist in wells that are leaking,” as well as isotopic analysis – a form of chemical “fingerprinting” – that matched the gas found in five homes to the gas leaking from nearby Cabot wells.

Hanger said DEP testing since April has shown as many as 18 affected supplies. DEP will continue water tests until the Nov. 1 deadline for Cabot to rid the water of gas.

“We, of course, would be delighted, as the families would be, if in fact some of the gas went away,” he said. “We have seen declines at some properties, but not at all. We’ll do some more testing and frankly we’ll make our own judgments based on our own data.”

In the open letter to Susquehanna County residents, Hanger said PENNVEST, a state agency which finances water and sewer projects, will be asked to provide the $11.8 million for the water line project, and then the state will “aggressively seek to recover the cost of the project from Cabot.”

“No one in Dimock or Susquehanna County will pay for it and local taxes will not be increased as the result of it,” he said.

Besides the affected residents, others who live on Route 29 between Montrose and Dimock will have the option to tap into the water line if they choose, Hanger said, adding that the line should boost the value of homes and businesses nearby.

Stark called the project an “unwarranted burden on the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”

“Given the science and our findings, we question how the secretary could spend the 12 million of taxpayer dollars,” he said in an interview. “He’s going to sue us to get it back. I’m not certain that a court will find in favor of the commonwealth.”

The public feud between Cabot and DEP was joined by a group of Susquehanna County residents and businesses called Enough, Already! last week, when the group bought an ad in the Mulligan’s Shopping Guide criticizing the waterline as a “terrible, big government decision” that is “expensive and unnecessary.”

The group asks residents to sign petitions, hosted at eight area businesses, telling PENNVEST to deny an application by DEP to fund the line.

Many of Cabot’s positions were echoed in the ad, which Cabot and members of Enough, Already! said the company did not place, write or pay for.

View article here.

Copyright:  The Times Tribune