The head of the state’s environmental protection agency made several promises to study and repair negative impacts from natural gas drilling in this Susquehanna County community Monday, including the vow residents with contaminated drinking water most wanted to hear.
The state will push to get a new supply of clean water piped to the homes of 14 Dimock families whose water the Department of Environmental Protection found was damaged by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. as it drilled for gas in the Marcellus Shale.
Additional homes have been added to those covered by a previous court order.
The department plans to get an interim answer from the company this week about whether it will agree to the proposal for replacing the residents’ household water, DEP Secretary John Hanger said.
“We will be complete advocates, regardless, for this permanent water solution,” he said at the end of an hour long meeting with the affected families.
DEP suspended portions of Cabot’s operations in April after it found that 14 of the company’s gas wells in Dimock were improperly constructed or overpressured and were causing methane to seep into residential drinking water wells.
The company was ordered to fix the affected water supplies by May 15, but at least 11 of the 14 families appealed Cabot’s proposed solution – methane elimination systems to be installed in each of the homes – saying that the systems do not meet the standard set by law for drillers to “permanently restore or replace” damaged water supplies.
The company was given an extension until Sept. 17 so the department could find a water solution that the families would accept – a consensus Hanger said was reached Monday.
“Now we go to work to turn that consensus into a reality,” he said.
Cabot has accepted responsibility for fixing the methane problem even though it does not believe it caused it.
The company has said that methane is naturally occurring in Susquehanna County water wells and was present in the Dimock wells long before any drilling began.
Hanger also committed Monday to send the agency’s mobile air-monitoring unit to Dimock to test the air quality around natural gas compressor stations and storage tanks used to hold the materials that come up with natural gas during the life of each well.
Before the meeting, he stood on the porch of Ronald and Jean Carter’s mobile home less than 500 feet from a well site and watched the storage tanks hiss and vent every minute or so.
He also vowed to find out “right away” why two families with complaints about their drinking water who live adjacent to the same gas well have not received temporary water-replacement supplies.
And during a visit to Craig and Julie Sautner’s home – where Cabot installed, then took offline, an elaborate water-treatment system in the basement that failed to work – Hanger promised to have DEP inspectors test the brown silt and water in the 550-gallon container in the family’s garage that Cabot contractors fill daily to supply the family with water.
He also asked for tests from the family’s disconnected water well after Craig Sautner shook a milk jug full of the water and stirred up an inch of white suds that lingered on the surface.
“We shouldn’t have to live like this,” he said. “Enough’s enough.”