DEP pushes for Montrose water
BY LAURA LEGERE
The state environmental regulatory agency is pushing a natural gas driller it deemed responsible for contaminating residential drinking water to pay to expand a public water line from Montrose to Dimock Twp.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said after a telephone conference with affected Dimock residents on Wednesday evening that he assured the families the department is “moving ahead” with plans to find a permanent solution to their water issues and that he “supports a public water extension from Montrose.”
That solution – if it is adopted – would be a tremendous undertaking: The centers of the two municipalities are separated by 6.5 miles, and people in Dimock currently rely almost exclusively on wells.
Hanger would reveal few specifics about the plan except to say that he has not received a final answer about the proposal from Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., which DEP found responsible for contaminating 14 residential water supplies in Dimock with methane as it drilled for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
The secretary also said he hopes to join with the families “on or around” Sept. 29 to announce “how this situation is going to be resolved.” Earlier, through a spokesman, he said it would be a “major announcement” that would be made “with or without Cabot.”
“We’ll be ready to talk in detail with great specificity around the 29th when we wrap this up,” he said when asked to describe the proposed project Wednesday night.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said Wednesday the company “continues to work with the department and the residents to make certain that we investigate all the options for fresh drinking water along Carter Road” – the rural Dimock road where most of the affected residents live.
Cabot has said it is not responsible for the methane contamination, which it attributes to natural causes, but has accepted responsibility for restoring the impacted water supplies.
DEP suspended portions of Cabot’s operations in April after it found 14 of the company’s gas wells in Dimock were improperly constructed or overpressured and were causing methane to seep into water wells.
The company has paid more than $360,000 in fines and was ordered to fix the affected water supplies, but at least 11 of the 14 families refused Cabot’s proposed solution – methane elimination systems to be installed in each of the homes – saying the systems are inadequate.
Stark said the filtration systems are working in the homes where families accepted them and those systems remain one of the options the company is considering for restoring the water for the other residents.
Other options including drilling new drinking water wells and studying “what it would take to have line run from Montrose,” he said.
Dimock residents were relieved and enthusiastic Wednesday after speaking with Hanger.
“There’s never been a community that’s forced a gas company to really restore water,” resident Victoria Switzer said.
“I am very, very proud of his response to this,” she said of the secretary. “He’s looking out for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”