Fracked Up: You Don’t Miss Your Water ‘Til Your Well Explodes

by Tom Kenworthy

Rick Perry recently made the ludicrous statement that there is not “a single incident of unsafe hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.” Tell that to the residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania who are finally settling a case around methane leaks in local water supplies.

After finding Cabot Oil & Gas Company responsible for the methane contamination of 18 domestic water wells in northeast Pennsylvania, state regulators now say the company can discontinue providing water to affected residents because it has met the terms of a legal settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Next up is a decision by regulators on Cabot’s request to resume drilling for natural gas in Dimock, PA, where the methane contamination incidents – featured in the movie “Gasland” – have given the town a central role in the ongoing controversy over drilling for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing. Dimock is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale formation that stretches from southwestern New York State to western Virginia.

Residents of Dimock began complaining of exploding water wells and discolored, foul-smelling water shortly after Cabot began drilling in August, 2008.

In April 2010, Pennsylvania’s DEP moved against Cabot, fining it an initial amount of $240,000, shutting down several wells, and requiring the company to permanently provide drinking water to affected residents.

Last December, Cabot and the state settled the case, and state regulators have now concluded the company has complied with that settlement by setting aside escrow funds to pay homeowners twice the value of their homes and by agreeing to install water treatment systems to remove methane.  Cabot has long maintained that the methane found in Dimock’s wells is naturally occuring. A colorless, odorless gas that is not harmful if ingested but can burn or explode if concentrated enough, methane naturally occurs in some Pennsylvania water supplies.

Some of the affected residents in Dimock who have sued Cabot have refused to accept the deal and have appealed the DEP’s settlement.

This is just one of more than a thousand problems of water contamination documented around the U.S. With shale gas production booming, expect many more similar cases.

— Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

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5 Responses to Fracked Up: You Don’t Miss Your Water ‘Til Your Well Explodes

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Uranium in Groundwater? ‘Fracking’ Mobilizes Uranium in Marcellus Shale

  2. Joan Savage says:

    This also illuminates the lopsided litigation outcomes between individuals and corporations, including the big failure in environmental litigation to address the near-infinite time frame for many kinds of health and environmental damage.

    Corporations are like amoebas, never dying, and do not react to legal “remedies” in the same way mere mortals do.

  3. Tom Lewis says:

    And what are we to make of EPA administrator Lisa Jackson having made the same statement as Perry did, to the Congress? The video tape has been circulating among gleeful deniers for months.

  4. Chris Winter says:
    Water availability, not contamination, worries residents above Eagle Ford Shale
    By Rick Spruill, Corpus Christi Caller Times — Posted October 15, 2011 at 10 p.m.