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Dimock Residents Demand EPA Reopen Fracking Water Contamination Study

Dimock-area residents and activists personally harmed by the hazards of fracking gathered yesterday at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3 office in Philadelphia, calling for the reopening of the investigation into drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA.

A Dimock, PA, resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in 2009. Photo credit: Reuters

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times revealed that EPA officials in Washington chose to close an investigation of Dimock drinking water despite evidence gathered from agency investigators based in Philadelphia that found “significant damage to the water quality,” from poisonous contamination likely caused by fracking.

The EPA PowerPoint Presentation was released last Monday on DeSmog blog by investigative journalist Steve Horn. Evidence of drinking water contamination due to fracking was similarly ignored by the EPA in Pavillion, WY, and Weatherford, TX. The resident-activists conducted a press conference on their way down to EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, where they will deliver about 50,000 petitions to new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling on her to reopen investigations in Dimock, PA, as well as Pavillion, WY, and Weatherford, TX. They are also calling on EPA to provide safe drinking water to residents while these investigations recommence.  

“For years now, I have had to live with toxic, poisoned fracked water in my home,” said Ray Kemble, a former gas industry employee turned whistleblower and an affected Dimock area resident. “When EPA finally stepped in and tested my water, I thought ‘Thank God. Someone is finally here to help us.’ But then it became apparent to those of us on the ground that they were playing politics. EPA officials literally told us officially that our water was safe to drink but then told us off-the-record not to drink it. Now the truth is out and we want justice.” 

A slide from the EPA power point presentation covering the contamination found in groundwater due to fracking.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) concluded that a fracking well drilled by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation was responsible for methane contamination of a large aquifer in Dimock, PA, resulting in the contamination of the drinking water of 19 families. The PA DEP enacted a fracking moratorium in the area and promised to build a water line from a nearby town to the residents. Then they rescinded that promise leaving Dimock residents to fend for themselves.

During the next few years, Cabot Oil and Gas paid for water deliveries to the residents and then abruptly stopped December 2011. Residents and advocates demanded the EPA and the federal government step in. In January 2012, the EPA commenced water deliveries while conducting its own investigation into groundwater contamination caused by drilling and fracking operations.

In the summer of 2012, the EPA concluded its investigation and stated that Dimock's water wasn't contaminated from drilling and fracking operations, however the LA Times now reports that internal documents show regional EPA staff members said the exact opposite. Staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely from local gas drilling and fracking.

“I helped sound the alarm and called EPA when Cabot Oil and Gas stopped water deliveries to outspoken residents in Dimock, PA,” said Craig Stevens, a resident from the neighboring town of Silver Lake Township, who has also been adversely been affected by fracking operations in the region.

“The people in this country deserve better then this," Stevens continued. "These fracking corporations should not be allowed to cause citizens harm and then have the federal government cover up the water contamination. Enough is enough. We aren’t going away until we have law, order and safe drinking water.” 

Residents argue this isn’t the first time the EPA has stepped back from connecting the evidence from its own studies of water contamination to unconventional gas drilling and fracking operations. Dimock’s story is emblematic of a troubling pattern in EPA groundwater investigations related to fracking.  

In late-2010 in Weatherford, TX, after evaluating samples from a water well near drilling and fracking operations, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane.

Photo courtesy of Gasland the Movie

More than a year later, the agency rescinded its mandate and refused to explain why.  However, in an Associated Press story that later emerged, the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study about hydraulic fracturing. In response to this threat and industry pressure, regulators set aside an analysis that concluded the drilling could have been to blame for the contamination.

More recently, the EPA abandoned the fracking study in Pavillion, WY, which found benzene, a known carcinogen, at 50 times the level that is considered safe. However, even with this evidence, the EPA stepped away from this study and instead handed it over to the state of Wyoming, whose lead politicians have repeatedly vocally supported fracking. Worse, the research will be funded by EnCana, the very company whose drilling and fracking operations may have caused the groundwater contamination.

“The purpose of the EPA is to protect all Americans from the types of health and safety hazards fracking so obviously caused in Dimock and elsewhere,” said Sam Bernhardt, statewide organizer with Food & Water Watch, the organization that led the petition collection effort.

“It’s time for Gina McCarthy and the EPA to do its job and stand up for public health, not continue wilting under pressure from the oil and gas industry to simply maintain the dangerous status quo.”  

“Our members count on the Environmental Protection Agency to honor the 'protection' part of its name for the public, not polluters,” said Jesse Bacon, field organizer for Environmental Action. “We wanted Gina McCarthy to head the EPA so she could take action on climate and other environmental disasters, not cover them up. Now that she’s on the job, we need a reopened investigation for a full accounting of the harm wrought by the dangerous and drilling method known as fracking immediately.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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