Pennsylvania seeks pipeline in water dispute with Cabot

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 21 -- Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has arranged for another state agency to finance construction of an $11.8 million water main in Susquehanna County for residents whose water supplies the agency says were fouled by methane migrating from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.’s wells in the area, DEP Sec. John Hanger said.

“DEP was forced to take action since Cabot continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, despite overwhelming evidence of its responsibility,” Hanger said in an open letter to residents of Dimock in Susquehanna County.

Cabot submitted a detailed letter to DEP on Sept. 28 asking the department to review evidence that the Houston independent is not responsible for methane migrating into northeastern Pennsylvania water wells (OGJ, Oct. 11, 2010, p. 16).

“We have gone above and beyond in our role as a good corporate neighbor, and it is disappointing that [DEP] has chosen to ignore compelling evidence that clearly proves Cabot’s operations are safe, while at the same time demanding a costly, unnecessary solution for water delivery if we do not comply,” said Cabot Chief Executive Officer Dan O. Dinges in a statement.

In an open letter to Pennsylvania citizens, Dinges expressed concerns over what he said was state regulators’ tendency to “communicate through the media instead of with the company.” He noted that Hanger previously indicated his commitment to make Cabot pay for constructing a water line from Montrose, Pa., to 14 or fewer private residences 7 miles away in Dimock occupied by plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging contamination of drinking water by methane allegedly from Cabot’s wells.

Cabot has produced documents showing methane occurred in well water in the area long before it drilled its wells. It has offered to install treatment systems, but the DEP is pressing for the pipeline and threatens court action to make Cabot pay the costs.

In the interim, Hanger said the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST), an agency which finances water and sewer projects, would be asked to provide the estimated $11.5 million for the Pennsylvania American Water Co. to provide water service to the Dimock residents with a new 5.5-mile main from its Lake Montrose treatment plant.

“Sophisticated testing has ‘fingerprinted’ gas samples and matched the gas found in five homes to the gas leaking from the nearby Cabot wells,” Hanger said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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