Cabot questions EPA plans to test water wells in Pennsylvania

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. has offered to meet with US Environmental Protection Agency representatives to discuss the EPA’s plans to test the water wells of some homes in Dimock, Pa., a township within the Marcellus shale play where Cabot has done hydraulic fracturing.

EPA has said it will test water in the area to determine whether residents are being exposed to hazardous substances that cause health concerns.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cabot Chairman, Pres., and Chief Executive Officer Dan Dinges said Cabot has worked closely with the Dimock community in northern Pennsylvania and with state and local regulators.

“We are concerned that EPA’s actions can be easily misinterpreted and can undermine regulatory certainty necessary for development of oil and gas,” Dinges said.

This marks the second recent case in which EPA has tested water wells in the area of gas exploration and production.

Last year, EPA investigated whether fracing in Pavillion field might be responsible for odd odor and taste in drinking water around Pavillion, Wyo.

On Dec. 8, 2011, EPA released a draft report saying groundwater “contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” EPA plans to submit its draft report to a scientific peer review panel, which has yet to be established.

Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. representatives question the source of some chemicals found in the Pavillion water samples (OGJ Online, Jan. 6, 2012).

On Jan. 19, EPA said it will test water at about 60 homes in Dimock. Some residents are questioning if activity associated with gas drilling has polluted their water wells. They complained about cloudy water having an odor starting in 2008.

EPA estimated it would take at least 3 weeks to sample all the homes, and the sampling is contingent upon being granted access to private property. Results validated from a laboratory are expected to be available about 5 weeks after samples are taken.

In addition, EPA will ensure delivery of temporary water to four homes where data reviewed by EPA indicates the well water contained some contaminants. EPA did not elaborate on what was found.

Cabot said it has had about 2,000 water wells tested in the area during several years, and its research has found no data showing drilling caused any health threats as suggested by the EPA.

Dinges said Cabot was “disappointed that EPA has undertaken a course regarding water sampling that seems inconsistent with what is known about Dimock and what was recommended by state regulators.”

In his letter, Dinges said, “EPA’s concerns are inconsistent with the findings of state regulators who have concluded after extensive investigation that Dimock drinking water meets regulatory standards. State regulators are closest to the facts, and most familiar with groundwater and geological formations in the area.”

He said EPA’s initiative was unsupported by any new facts, noting that in December 2011, EPA told Dimock residents that their drinking water did not present a health threat.

Cabot said results from more than 1,700 water wells sampled and tested before proposed gas drilling in Susquehanna County, Pa., show methane to be ubiquitous in shallow groundwater, with a clear correlation of methane concentrations with surface topography (OGJ, Dec. 5, 2011, p. 54).

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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