Laying out the facts about Dimock

In light of recent developments with Gasland 2 and commentary surrounding its release, we want to take the time to provide a look back with a full understanding of the situation. 

As an operator in the Marcellus Shale and several other shale plays in the United States, Cabot understands as well as any company how America’s oil and gas resources are changing our country’s energy outlook, creating a boon for the economy, and putting the U.S. on the path to increased energy security and lower greenhouse gas emissions.  We also understand that an important part of developing America’s resources is working  toward collaboration among all stakeholders.  It is the best way to develop sound policy while creating the certainty industry needs to help America achieve its energy goals.

One of the topics of discussion that often pops up among opponents of natural gas drilling is Dimock, Pennsylvania, which lies at the heart of the Marcellus Shale.  Despite the fact that there have been no documented incidents of groundwater contamination caused by the process of hydraulic fracturing in the nation, Dimock has been a lightning rod for misleading headlines grounded more in sensationalism than science.  But it is imperative to get to the facts behind the real story.

Both federal and state regulators have conducted investigations in the Dimock area and have concluded that drinking water standards are being met and that no further investigation is needed.  Water quality issues that exist at isolated households in Dimock are believed to be associated with poorly constructed water wells that have, over time, allowed naturally occurring contaminants, such as methane, to leach into drinking water.  The contaminants identified in these wells are not linked to the development of natural gas in the region.

Cabot first began drilling for natural gas in Dimock back in 2006. In 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) began investigating purported evidence of methane contamination in drinking water wells in and around the Dimock and Springville townships.  When drinking water concerns were raised, Cabot devoted extraordinary resources, expertise and money to investigate and determine whether Cabot’s activities played any role in bringing them about.  Cabot’s investigation, as well as investigations by third parties, determined that our development activities were not the source of the methane gas reported to be in groundwater and water wells in and around Dimock and Springville townships.

These investigations helped show what people in the area have known for decades: that methane gas existed in groundwater and water wells in the Dimock and Springville townships long before companies began drilling in the area.  There are sworn affidavits from residents who stated that they had methane in their water for over 30 years, sworn affidavits from water well drillers that they personally encountered natural gas while drilling several water wells in the area, and reports detailing numerous water wells in and around the Dimock area that tested positive for methane prior to any natural gas drilling activities.  Official data from the U.S. Geological Survey also provided evidence that methane gas was present in the Dimock area’s groundwater decades before natural gas drilling ever began here.  All this information was shared collaboratively among community, state and federal regulators.

In 2010, Cabot provided water treatment systems in order to help those residents who still had concerns amount water quality: the Commonwealth’s preferred solution for issues like this for years.  Then, in a last minute decision, the PADEP ordered construction of a new $12 million pipeline to bring water to Dimock homes from the neighboring Montrose public water system over 12 miles away, initiating the project with public infrastructure money, which it then tried  to recoup by forcing Cabot to pay for the pipeline after it was built.

Since there was no apparent need for the pipeline, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) – the agency that presides over our sewer, storm water and drinking water projects – hesitated before considering such an impulsive plan. Many local residents and the Borough of Montrose itself strongly opposed the plan.  Eventually, the PADEP backed off due in large part to the terrible precedent it set. Finally, after numerous additional rounds of water sampling, PADEP concluded in December 2011 that there was no need for Cabot to provide drinking water for Dimock residents.

You would think the story would end there.  But despite the opinion of Pennsylvania itself that no further action was necessary, EPA announced in January 2012 that it would be undertaking additional sampling of drinking water supplies in the Dimock area. Yet after several rounds of sampling, EPA announced on July 25, 2012 that it had “determined that there [were] not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency” and that no further testing would be conducted.  On par with the numerous earlier investigations, EPA did identify some contaminants in drinking water during its Dimock sampling exercise, but did not indicate that they bore any relationship to natural gas development, saying the substances detected were naturally occurring.  The agency concluded that water in Dimock met all regulatory standards and contaminants found did not possess a threat to human health and the environment.

Cabot is committed to the communities in which we operate, and has invested over $2.2 billion in the Susquehanna County area, including the establishment of scholarships, pledges to local hospitals, and continued investment in roads and infrastructure.  We will continue to work closely with federal, state and local officials in using the best and most accurate science to address public concerns.  We are proud of our work and our role in the shale gas revolution.  As the facts bear out, it is a success story that must be repeated over and over.

Dandy Mini Mart CNG Station
Hitting the Sweet Spot
George Stark

George grew up in Western PA, graduated from Dickinson College and has been involved in Public Policy matters since then. He has worked in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh on energy issues with a focus on Local, State and Federal matters. As the Director, External Affairs at Cabot Oil & Gas Corp, George directs the media, community and legislative relations for the company.

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