EPA asked to reopen Dimock investigation

Ray Kemble of Dimock holds dirty tap water from his home as speaks with media members on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square Monday morning. Mr. Kemble says gas drilling in his area ruined his water well. Michael J. Mullen / Staff Photographer

Ray Kemble of Dimock holds dirty tap water from his home as speaks with media members on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square
Monday morning. Mr. Kemble says gas drilling in his area ruined his water well. Michael J. Mullen / Staff Photographer

BY STEVE McCONNELL
Times Shamrock Writer

Ray Kemble brought a gallon of well water from his Susquehanna County home to Courthouse Square in Scranton on Monday, the first stop on a trip to Washington D.C. to implore the Environmental Protection Agency to reopen its investigation of gas drilling and drinking water contamination in Dimock Township.

A previously undisclosed document from the federal agency, that suggested the possibility of drilling-related methane contamination of groundwater, motivated Kemble and another Susquehanna County resident, Craig Stevens, to make the trip.

They planned to drop off roughly 50,000 petitions at the agency’s headquarters.

The petitions, collected online by several environmental organizations, ask the EPA to return to Dimock and conduct another investigation of drinking water supplies.

Last year, federal regulators found no need to “take further action.” Its analysis of local drinking water samples revealed no threat to human health.
Kemble, 58, remains unconvinced.

To demonstrate his ire while speaking to the media outside the courthouse, he held a plastic gallon container filled nearly halfway with a brownish-yellow liquid that he says he collected from the well of his Dimock home.
After drilling got underway near his home off Carter Road, he said his clean water became filthy.

“The smell and the color … is 10 times worse,” Kemble said.

After their stop in Scranton, Kemble and Stevens planned to drop off petitions at the EPA’s regional headquarters in Philadelphia on Monday, then head to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The EPA investigation in Dimock revealed elevated levels of methane, barium, arsenic, and sodium. But regulators said homeowners’ water had either been later successfully treated or did not pose a health concern. They also noted the contaminates are naturally occurring substances.

Twenty wells had methane levels above the state’s reporting threshold and five of those were at or above the EPA’s “trigger level” – the point when dissolved methane begins to escape into the atmosphere.

The agency said it has not done any detailed review to determine the cause of any contaminates.

Cabot, a major player in gas shale development in Dimock and Susquehanna County, contends that methane and other contaminates in local water wells are natural phenomena and unrelated to its operations.

Meanwhile, state regulators determined in 2009 that faulty gas wells drilled by Cabot allowed methane to seep into 18 Dimock water supplies.

Environmentalists question why EPA pulled out of Dimock and other hotbeds of shale gas drilling in Wyoming and Texas.

Some believe it is political and feel regulation took a backseat to energy development, especially in the federal government where it appears the Obama administration and some members of Congress have tilted in favor of gas extraction as a means for the U.S. to achieve greater energy independence.

Craig L. Stevens of Silver Lake Township displays documents from Marcellus Shale gas drilling from Susquehanna County during a protest at Lackawanna County Courthouse Square Monday morning. Michael J. Mullen / Staff Photographer County residents ask EPA to reinvestigate

Craig L. Stevens of Silver Lake Township displays documents from Marcellus Shale gas drilling from Susquehanna County during a protest
at Lackawanna County Courthouse Square Monday morning. Michael J. Mullen / Staff Photographer County residents ask EPA to reinvestigate

Stevens owns property in Silver Lake Township, about 20 miles from Dimock and near another heartland of gas drilling in Franklin Township.

He believes gas drilling near his property polluted his drinking water.

“We’re treating it as a civil rights issue and a human rights issue and we’re not stopping until we get the truth,” Stevens, 53, said.

About two months ago, Stevens noticed the water had a slight metallic taste. Overtime, the metallic taste got stronger, he said.
He said he started getting random nose bleeds.

Once he stopped drinking his water, the nose bleeds stopped. He admits tying it to gas drilling is anecdotal. He is waiting for tests of his water to verify his claim.

However, he issued a challenge to federal and state regulators to take a sip of his water and other drinking water in the communities where gas drilling has flourished.

“If you’re telling us our water is fine and you know it’s safe because you’ve seen all the test results then you come and drink a big 32 ouncer,” he said. “They will not touch it. They will not come.”