I Know Contamination, And There’s None in Dimock!
Recently, some folks over the hill from my Dimock home decided to solicit some funds from the folks at Catskill Citizens for Clean Energy to erect a billboard that states “Fix Dimock Water” and shows a pitcher of brown water. They also thought it was appropriate to hire a plane to fly over the very well received Cabot community picnic, dragging a banner saying “Fix Dimock Water.” This accusation is borderline outrageous and I’d like to tell you my side of the story, which paints a far different picture about the pitcher. I know contamination, and there’s none in Dimock!
For those of you who don’t know me, Penn State decided that I earned a BS in Environmental Engineering Technology back in 1992. I have traveled all over the United States conducting site assessment at various facilities including Superfund sites, military bases, Bulk Petroleum Storage facilities, gas stations, industrial plants, and even the PanTex Nuclear facility in Amarillo, Texas. I know contamination. I’ve chased contaminant plumes over a mile at some facilities. By the way, I’ve also served as a Public Health Sanitarian specializing in residential well water.
Enough about me (I don’t want to bore you to death), so let’s discuss Dimock. Unless you live under a rock, the Pennsylvania DEP began to investigate reports of water quality changes in some Dimock wells around November, 2008. The investigation included the wells of complaining residents along with all wells in the area surrounding gas drilling activity.
My well was included in the sampling starting in February, 2009. From February to July, 2009, my well water contained between 4 to 6 mg/l of methane, which is quite insignificant. It then jumped up to 35 mg/l and averaged around 25 mg/l for the next 12+ months. DEP subsequently added my well to the Consent Order with Cabot. I don’t know when this happened because I was never notified.
I accepted bottled drinking water from Cabot free of charge because my water was coming out of the faucet white with the supersaturated gas, and my Mom, who shares my well, was nervous about drinking it. I was offered a water buffalo, but I declined it because I saw no inherent danger with methane contamination. I never took my well off line and I still use it today.
John Smelko of Cabot contacted me in August, 2009, about installing a treatment system on my well. He visited my wife and I with Brent Brelje, a Professional Engineer with SLR Corp. Brent was (and still is) in charge of designing the treatment systems for Cabot. I was very impressed with their presentation and we immediately accepted the system, again, free of charge. The system utilizes a methane separator with blower, storage tank with blower, ozonator and several filters. Here’s a video where I describe the system:
Upon installation of the system, we immediately discontinued bottled water delivery. We like our tap water better than bottled water. Its an outstanding system, and even though they are not obligated to, Cabot continues to maintain the system for me as well.
Obviously, I am happy with the treatment system, but ultimately I wanted the aquifer that feeds my well fixed. After a three month battle with DEP over their proposed water line from Montrose to Dimock to serve 18 of us with what DEP felt were methane impacted wells, Cabot and DEP came to an agreement that Cabot would take various actions (including specific well improvements) and providing all 18 families with treatment systems and a financial settlement worth twice our property values. My last two sample results show the methane in my well is back down to 7 mg/l, right back where I started and proving that issues can be successfully resolved.
Now, back to that billboard. Some 11 of the 18 folks in the Consent Order happen to be litigants in a major lawsuit against Cabot. These folks haven’t allowed sampling at their residences since December, 2010. I understand they may have recently allowed some sampling, but no results are available yet. Could it be they don’t want data showing the water is fixed?
Unfortunately for them and perhaps attorneys everywhere, DEP’s original Consent Order mandated the plugging of three wells deemed beyond repair. The wells were plugged by April of 2010. When you look at the data of the two worst wells on Carter Road prior to well plugging, you will find iron levels of 5 mg/l and methane level of 20 mg/l at one residence, and iron levels of 11 mg/l but no methane at another. These are extremely high levels of iron and consequently, these families had brown water.
However, after the wells were plugged, the iron and methane levels fell immediately to barely detectable and insignificant levels. It is important to note these results are from homes that are about 100 yards apart. One resident is a litigant and one is a non-litigant. The non-litigant family has been using their well for over a year now with Brent’s first treatment system. Indeed, all non-litigants use their wells; only litigants have water buffaloes.
Now one final note. Back in August of 2010, the EPA held a public meeting on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, NY. One of the litigants announced at the meeting that she had hydraulic fracturing chemicals in her water. Although I haven’t seen the actual analytical laboratory report, the local paper reported the well contained glycol and toluene. Cabot responded on their website stating that only trace amounts of the chemicals were found which were well below the drinking water standards. Cabot had not done any hydraulic fracturing by this residence in 1½ years, so other causes seem likely.
Interestingly, the chemicals identified were constituents in gasoline and anti-freeze. It should not be a big surprise to find constituents of gasoline and anti-freeze in a gravel aquifer down gradient from a repair garage and towing storage yard that routinely contains wrecked cars and there is one a mere ¼ mile upstream from this site. Moreover, DEP responded by conducting their own sampling of our wells to ensure none of us had chemical contaminants in our wells. They tested for the full volatile/semi volatile range of chemicals. Every result was “non-detect” except for one constituent in one well at a very minute concentration that is well within the drinking water standard. DEP, in fact, has repeatedly declared there are no hydraulic fracturing chemicals in Dimock water.
It seems to me the cries of “Dimock” that we have heard so many times have been more about money than water. Ironically, some of the people crying the loudest and pursuing that money, have accused me, on more than one occasion, of taking money from industry for my opinions on Dimock. This is far from the truth. I haven’t received a dime for telling the truth. I have received royalties and a settlement, the same things offered the litigants. Our country is in one heck of a mess right now, and natural gas is a big part of cleaning up that mess. I would like to thank Scott Perry and his entire staff in Oil and Gas at DEP, and Mike O’Donnell, the supervisor out of the Scranton office. I would also like to thank Cabot for getting back to the negotiating table with DEP and working this mess out with Secretary Hanger and then helping to fix our water. Hopefully, we’ll see some drill rigs back in the “affected area” very soon.