As Republican lawmakers rush headlong to open up land to fracking, their constituents should heed the cautionary tale told by the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania. The small town of 1,400 people agreed to let Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Company employ hydraulic fracturing on local land to obtain natural gas in 2008. The result: 18 water wells contaminated with methane.
Dimock residents’ water “started turning brown and making them sick, on woman’s water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair.” What’s more, the value of the land the residents lived on plummeted. The situation deteriorated so badly that by 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fined Cabot, shut down several of the wells, and required the company to permanently provide drinking water to 11 families in Dimock.
But this Wednesday, Cabot told Dimock residents that they’re officially on their own. Cabot ended daily deliveries of clean water this week, asserting that “Dimock’s water is safe to drink.” DEP gave Cabot permission last month to stop paying for the water, and a judge, who sits on the state’s Environmental Hearing Board, “declined to issue an emergency order compelling Cabot to continue the deliveries.” Now, Dimock families are left in a lurch, many unable to afford the provisions that run as high as $100 a day:
The decision left residents who don’t think their water is safe scrambling to find alternate sources.
“We are in desperate need here,” said Scott Ely, 42, who is married with three young children at home.Ely, a former Cabot employee, said no option was appealing. A creek runs through his property, but the water hasn’t been tested and his wife doesn’t want it piped into their brand-new home. The Cabot contractor who had been supplying their water quoted him a price of $100 a day, he said.
“We’re sitting here with no answers, and I cannot believe Cabot got away with this,” he said.
Like those in Dimock, many Americans “signed millions of leases allowing companies allowing companies to drill for oil and natural gas on their land in recent years.” But as a New York Times review notes, “fewer than half the leases require companies to compensate landowners for water contamination after drilling begins;” “most leases grant gas companies broad rights to decide where they can cut down tress, store chemicals, build roads and drill;” the drilling companies “Rarely describe to landowners the potential environmental and other risks that federal laws require them to disclose” in leases; and the majority of leases “allow extensions without additional approval from landowners” so if landowners feel differently about the situation, “they may be out of luck.”
The Dimock situation should certainly serve as a warning to its neighboring states. In Ohio, GOP Gov. John Kasich is trying to open up Ohio’s state and federal parks to fracking. While it’s banned high-volume fracking, New York is currently considering some companies being fracking, a move that could potentially jeopardize the drinking-water supply for 9 million people in New York City and Syracuse. Hearings on the proposed regulations on the drilling drew 6,000 people to four public hearings and have spurred more than 10,600 public comments out of concern for the future of their water supply.
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