I’m trying to figure out what happened in Dimock, Pennsylvania over the weekend. As you may know, Dimock, home to dozens of fracking wells and featured in the movie Gasland, experienced massive contamination with their water supply. For a time, Cabot Oil & Gas, the main fracking company in the region, provided free water to the residents, under an order from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. But with a turnover to Republican leadership, the PA DEP let Cabot off the hook, and Cabot stopped the water shipments.
Over the weekend, it appeared that the federal EPA would step in to provide water, but then the EPA canceled the delivery. Bloomberg reports:
When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called to say it would start delivering fresh water to their home, Ron and Jean Carter thought they gained an ally in a long fight with Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
A retreat by the federal government within two days has left them feeling abandoned yet again in a bid to clean up water they say was turned toxic by Cabot (COG)’s use of hydraulic fracturing to hunt for gas in Pennsylvania.
“These agencies were developed to help us, and they don’t,” Jean Carter said in an interview in her home, which is about 326 feet (99 meters) from a Cabot well. Although her reserves of water are sufficient for now, she took it as a snub. “We just keep getting hurt all the way around, as if we weren’t hurt enough.”
The Carters and other families in Dimock — a community of 1,368 and a single, blinking traffic light along Highway 29 in northeast Pennsylvania — have come to symbolize the national debate over the use of fracking, in which water and chemicals are shot into the earth to free gas or oil from rock formations. Their case has taken on a new importance as the EPA says it will test well water in the area, and advised residents not to drink from their wells — reversing an earlier, initial determination that the water was safe.
So if the EPA is telling residents not to drink from wells, and yet they’re also declining to provide water themselves, and Cabot will not ship water, what are Dimock residents supposed to do, exactly? EPA absolutely has a responsibility to test the water, a reversal from earlier insistence that the water was safe. But why not ship in water while the testing goes on? Who benefits from Dimock having no water supply?
For their part, the PA DEP claims that the EPA has a “rudimentary” knowledge of the region. But nobody comes out looking good here. The DEP, appointed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, have their heads in the sand, claiming that there’s nothing wrong with the water supply. The EPA belatedly recognizes the problem – both in Dimock and in Wyoming, where their researchers found that fracking did indeed contaminate groundwater – but they won’t immediately resolve the concerns of the residents of Dimock by providing them water.
The Sierra Club and other private organizations have stepped in to provide water. But this is a puzzling response from EPA.