Dimock, Pennsylvania, is back in the news this week as a federal trial, involving two families that have claimed Cabot Oil and Gas is responsible for water problems since 2008, gets underway. But as EID has noted on many occasions, the case in Dimock has long been put to rest as it was determined that fracking was not to blame and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) found in 2012 that the water there was safe.
With the trial beginning this week, it’s worth re-visiting what’s occurred in Dimock over the last six years to make sure that folks have the facts. This will be the first post in a series on Dimock that EID will be producing as the trial continues over the next few weeks.
Fact #1: The families suing Cabot apparently had water problems before drilling ever occurred
According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, during opening remarks Tuesday, Cabot’s attorney, Stephen Dillard, said,
“…evidence will show Mr. Ely reported problems with the water started in August of 2008 — one or two months before Cabot began drilling the wells in question. Equally important, he said, is that the contamination of the Elys and Huberts wells continues today, despite the fact Cabot shut down the gas wells in 2010.” (emphasis added)
If this is in fact accurate, then the plaintiffs’ issues would pre-date any natural gas development from Cabot. This wouldn’t be surprising given the historic water conditions in Susquehanna County, where Dimock is located, in part due to there being “no statewide construction or siting standards for private water wells.” In fact, just last year, a new study from Syracuse University looked at over 21,000 water well samples prior to drilling and found that,
“…exceedance of at least one water-quality standard occurs in 63% of water well samples in NE Pennsylvania and 87% in the Western area.”
Fact #2: The original Consent Order was based on Pennsylvania’s ‘presumption of liability’
As Reuters reported earlier this week,
“According to court documents, the trial will bring to light a state law that assumes that a gas driller is responsible for water well contamination within 1,000 feet of a drilling site that develops within six months of drilling.”
In other words, Pennsylvania law requires that a company be held accountable for any contamination within a certain number of feet from a well regardless of whether the company had anything to do with it.
Therefore, because complaints were made following the drilling of its gas wells, and there were no baseline tests to compare water standards prior to that drilling, state law deemed that by default Cabot was accountable. As such, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reached an agreement, or Consent Order, with Cabot that included settlements in some cases, water deliveries and/or treatment systems for the families involved, and an agreement to shut in wells and halt operations in a 9-square mile area in Dimock. In 2012, DEP determined Cabot had met the terms of the Consent Order and no longer had to deliver water.
This is especially important in this specific court hearing considering that the families apparently had water problems before drilling ever occurred and would technically not have even qualified to be included in the original consent order, let alone to be able to hold Cabot responsible for their water issues.
Fact #3: EPA declared the water in Dimock safe back in 2012
EID has a detailed factsheet on the EPA’s involvement in Dimock, but to summarize, following a request from Gasland director, Josh Fox, the EPA stepped into Dimock and tested the water at 60 homes. The agency concluded:
- On March 15, 2012, the EPA released its first round of water testing from 11 homes in Dimock, which “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.”
- On April 6, 2012, the EPA released more water sampling data from Dimock, indicating that the water does not pose a threat to resident’s health. All contaminates found are also naturally occurring.
- On April 20, 2012, EPA released yet another round of water testing data from Dimock. EPA concludes: “This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action.”
- The EPA released its final findings from Dimock on July 25, 2012, concluding: “Overall during the sampling in Dimock, EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern. In all cases the residents have now or will have their own treatment systems that can reduce concentrations of those hazardous substances to acceptable levels at the tap. EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.”
The plaintiffs were included in the EPA’s testing. As State Impact reported,
“Cabot’s attorney Stephen Dillard told the jury the contents of the Ely and Hubert water was naturally occurring and existed before the company began drilling. He said aside from the presence of bacteria, which no one links to gas drilling, the water is safe to drink, and that the scientific evidence will back this up.
“The dots do not connect between the gas wells and the water wells,” he said in his opening statement to the jury.” (emphasis added)
So, to recap: the plaintiffs water issue may have begun prior even to development, but regardless EPA testing back in 2012 deemed the water in the region safe.
Fact #4: Water treatment systems were given to families that wanted them
What’s interesting here is that the plaintiffs actually refused to accept the water treatment that was offered by the company and are the only two families that have yet to reach a settlement on the issue. When asked on the stand why treatment had been refused, according to State Impact, one plaintiff, Scott Ely, said, “he didn’t accept the filtration system because he didn’t believe it would work.”
Back in 2011, EID got a first-hand look at the water treatment systems that Cabot bought for families that were included in the original Consent Order issued by the DEP. In fact, EID even drank the water at one of the properties prior to it going through the treatment system Cabot had installed for the family in 2009, because, as the homeowner, Loren Salsman, indicated in a guest post for EID, the water issues had been resolved:
“Obviously, I am happy with the treatment system, but ultimately I wanted the aquifer that feeds my well fixed. After a three month battle with DEP over their proposed water line from Montrose to Dimock to serve 18 of us with what DEP felt were methane impacted wells, Cabot and DEP came to an agreement that Cabot would take various actions (including specific well improvements) and providing all 18 families with treatment systems and a financial settlement worth twice our property values. My last two sample results show the methane in my well is back down to 7 mg/l, right back where I started and proving that issues can be successfully resolved.”
Here’s Mr. Salsman explaining the situation and how the water treatment system works.
Regardless of this latest media attention the facts are unchanged. When a decision is rendered in this trial, perhaps the book will finally be closed on the Dimock saga. For those of us from Northeastern Pennsylvania, it will be a welcome relief to see such a beautiful community finally able to move on from the unwanted attention that has followed them for nearly a decade.
Stay tuned to EID for more facts surrounding the last six years in Dimock as the trial continues.