DEP: Cabot OK to stop Dimock water deliveries
Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. can stop supplying fresh bottled and bulk water to Dimock Twp. residents whose well water has been tainted with methane,Pennsylvaniaenvironmental regulators said Wednesday.
The approval, 24 hours after the natural gas driller asked to halt the deliveries, shocked the residents who have relied on the water for drinking and washing for nearly three years while regulators determined that faulty Cabot gas wells allowed methane to seep into their water.
Scott Perry, DEP’s acting deputy secretary for the Office of Oil and Gas Management, wrote in a letter Tuesday that Cabot had met the obligations outlined in a $4.6 million settlement in December between Cabot and DEP, including funding escrow accounts for the affected homeowners with twice the tax-assessed value of their properties and offering to install methane removal syste
Cabot disagrees with the department over the cause of the methane in the water supplies, arguing its tests have found that methane occurs naturally in 80 percent ofSusquehannaCountywater wells in a pattern that mimics the levels in Dimock. “Repeated testing by DEP-approved, state-certified professional laboratories have shown that the property owners’ permanent water supplies are safe for drinking and residential uses,” Cabot spokesman George Stark said Wednesday.
The Marcellus Shale operator plans to stop delivering replacement water by or before Nov. 30. In a letter to the DEP on Monday, the company said it will write to affected families or their lawyers on or before Nov. 1 to offer the free services of a plumber for 60 days to reconnect their water wells to their homes or install a methane removal system.
Cabot will stop the deliveries “at its earliest opportunity” for homeowners who refuse to allow a company contractor to test their water wells for methane and other contaminants, the company said.
Cabot also asked to be allowed to resume drilling and hydraulic fracturing in a 9-square-mile area aroundCarter Roadthat DEP placed off-limits in April 2010. The department has not made a determination on that issue, DEP spokeswoman Katherine Gresh said Wednesday.
Word of the department’s decision spread quickly, though the Dimock families at odds with Cabot over the contamination all said they found out through news reports and not direct communication with state regulators. Eleven of the 18 affected water supplies are owned by families suing the company.
“There’s no way I’m hooking this well up to my house,” Scott Ely said as he turned on a sputtering spigot in his backyard Wednesday. Ely’s water supply is one of five that had levels of dissolved methane in the water during testing in September above the limits set by the department in the December consent order with Cabot.
Ron Carter, a neighbor on Carter Road whose vented water well had combustible levels of methane in the atmosphere during tests Sept. 15, said he would love to rely on his well water, but he is not certain it is safe or that the methane removal system would work.
“I saw the test results,” his wife, Jean, said. “And they expect us to turn that back on in our house?”
The families’ attorneys said they are reviewing the Cabot letter to DEP, as well as the department’s response. The families’ appeal of the December consent order between Cabot and DEP is pending before the Environmental Hearing Board.
Told of the department’s decision,Carter Roadresident Craig Sautner said, “In other words, they believed everything Cabot said.”
The concentration of methane in the enclosed space of Sautner’s well exceeded the point at which it becomes an explosion risk during testing by a Cabot contractor on Sept. 15.
Gresh, the DEP spokeswoman, said Wednesday that if a water well is vented, as most in Dimock are, “it does not pose an explosive problem” if methane is concentrated there at combustible levels.
She said water-quality data provided by a Cabot contractor that shows persistently high or surging methane in several Dimock wells “is a factor we will consider, but it is not the only factor” in determining whether and when Cabot can resume operations. “Other factors include Cabot’s compliance with the Dec. 2010 (consent order) and the information they provided in response to our May 9 letter,” she said.