The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will end water deliveries to residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, after tests of wells near a gas drilling operation found no unsafe levels of contaminants.
Residents in an area of the northeast Pennsylvania town complained that their wells had been tainted during drilling by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. The EPA stepped in after state officials last year let Cabot stop its water deliveries.
“The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,” Shawn Garvin, the EPA regional administrator, said in a statement.
Dimock, featured in Josh Fox’s anti-fracking movie “Gasland,” had become a symbol of possible threats to water from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which millions of gallons of water are shot underground with sand and chemicals to blast apart rock and free trapped gas. Actor Mark Ruffalo delivered water to Dimock residents last year.
Cabot had agreed with Pennsylvania state regulators to provide families with fresh water, install water filters and pay each affected family twice the value of their home. The Houston-based company set aside $4.1 million to pay claims stemming from residents’ complaints. Its sampling found the water there was safe, and after some residents refused to settle, it cut off water deliveries last year.
The findings today by the EPA “are consistent with thousands of pages of water-quality data previously accumulated by state and local authorities and by Cabot,” George Stark, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “Cabot will continue to cooperate with federal, state and local officials in using the best and most accurate science to address public concerns.”
For proponents of the gas-drilling industry, which are fending off complaints from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the EPA’s decision today is a victory.
“We are very pleased that EPA has arrived upon these fact-based findings, and that we’re now able to close this chapter once and for all,” Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group based in Pittsburgh, said in a statement.
Dimock was a test for the administration of President Barack Obama, who has celebrated the economic benefits of increased natural-gas production in the U.S. and the gain for chemical, refining and manufacturing plants. At the same time the EPA has moved to regulate air emissions from fracking and interceded in local water disputes between residents and gas drillers in Wyoming and Texas.
In each of those instances, the EPA has retreated, settling the case with Range Resources Corp. in Texas and agreeing to re-test water in Pavillion, Wyoming.
The EPA said today that it had tested 64 private wells in Dimock, and found five with arsenic, barium or manganese that “could present a health concern.”
“In all cases the residents have now or will have their own treatment systems that can reduce concentrations of those hazardous substances to acceptable levels at the tap,” the agency said in its statement.
This weekend anti-fracking activists plan a rally in Washington, with a protest outside the White House and a march to the headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance, an industry advocacy group, where they will drop off jugs of contaminated water.