By Mark Drajem and Jim Efstathiou Jr. on October 02, 2012
Methane in two Pennsylvania water wells has a chemical fingerprint that links it to natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, evidence that such drilling can pollute drinking water.
The data, collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are significant because the composition of the gas –its isotopic signature — falls into a range Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (COG) had identified as that of the Marcellus Shale, which it tapped through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“The EPA data falls squarely in the Marcellus space” established by Cabot’s scientists, said Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University. That evidence backs up his findings linking gas drilling and water problems in the town of Dimock, applying the very methodology that Cabot established to try to debunk it, he said. Read more
U.S. EPA yesterday ended the latest chapter in the turbulent drilling dispute in Dimock, Pa., finding that contaminant levels in its water show no health threat and no connection to hydraulic fracturing chemicals.
Because of that, the agency said, it will stop delivering water to four households in the small northeastern Pennsylvania community that was featured in the anti-drilling documentary “Gasland.”
“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,” said Philadelphia-based EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin.
The action, however, does not change state officials’ case against Cabot Oil and Gas for contaminating water wells in the community with methane. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection still has not cleared Cabot to drill in areas of Dimock Township where it ordered wells shut down in 2009. That case focused on poor well construction, not problems with fracturing.
A Cabot spokesman said the company is “working closely with the state to restart our operations.”
EPA had looked for hazardous substances such as arsenic, barium or manganese (E&ENews PM, May 11). At five homes, EPA sampling found those substances, which are naturally occurring, at levels that “could present a health concern.” But all five of the homes have sufficient treatment systems, or will have them, to make the water quality acceptable coming out of the tap.
“The data released today once again confirms the EPA’s and DEP’s findings that levels of contaminants found do not possess a threat to human health and the environment,” a statement issued by the company said.
The statement said the company will “continue to cooperate with federal, state and local officials” and stressed the economic growth that drilling has brought to the area.
Industry praised EPA’s findings as “fact-based” and cast them as vindication of the safety of drilling.
“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,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group.
What’s not closed is the action by Pennsylvania DEP, which shut down Cabot’s drilling in portions of Dimock Township in 2009. State officials said shoddy well construction on Cabot wells allowed methane gas to leak (or “migrate”) into the water wells of Dimock residents.
EPA testing has left many with the impression that the federal agency has exonerated and debunked all the allegations against Cabot in Dimock, said John Hanger, who headed Pennsylvania DEP during its Dimock investigation.
He says a drive by some environmental groups to shut down the industry in Pennsylvania has backfired. He said they pushed too far by trying to prove that hydraulic fracturing chemicals, not just methane, had contaminated the Dimock water.
“This is the problem with hyperbole, exaggeration and wild claims,” Hanger said. “There are real impacts from gas drilling, and we should focus on those, such as methane migration and methane leaks.”
DEP testing found “thermogenic” — as opposed to naturally occurring — gas at 18 properties. DEP fined the company and eventually negotiated a $4.1 million settlement in which all the affected homeowners got at least two times the value of their home and kept any mineral rights.
EPA tested for methane in its first round of sampling. Five wells had methane above the federal Office of Surface Mining’s screening level of 28 parts per million. Two of the homes were receiving alternate sources of drinking water from Cabot. EPA officials said all of the people affected were already aware that their water contained levels of methane.
“EPA’s investigation does not include an evaluation of the risk posed by elevated levels of methane — which continue to exist in some homes in Dimock — and which, at extreme levels and if unaddressed, can lead to explosions,” said Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Kate Sinding.
Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter
EnergyWire: Thursday, July 26, 2012
EPA News Release
Contact: Terri White firstname.lastname@example.org 215-814-5523
PHILADELPHIA (July 25, 2012) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has completed its sampling of private drinking water wells in Dimock, Pa. Data previously supplied to the agency by residents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas Exploration had indicated the potential for elevated levels of water contaminants in wells, and following requests by residents EPA took steps to sample water in the area to ensure there were not elevated levels of contaminants. Based on the outcome of that sampling, EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.
“Our goal was to provide the Dimock community with complete and reliable information about the presence of contaminants in their drinking water and to determine whether further action was warranted to protect public health,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “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. Throughout EPA’s work in Dimock, the Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”
EPA visited Dimock, Pa. in late 2011, surveyed residents regarding their private wells and reviewed hundreds of pages of drinking water data supplied to the agency by Dimock residents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot. Because data for some homes showed elevated contaminant levels and several residents expressed concern about their drinking water, EPA determined that well sampling was necessary to gather additional data and evaluate whether residents had access to safe drinking water.
Between January and June 2012, EPA sampled private drinking water wells serving 64 homes, including two rounds of sampling at four wells where EPA was delivering temporary water supplies as a precautionary step in response to prior data indicating the well water contained levels of contaminants that pose a health concern. At one of those wells EPA did find an elevated level of manganese in untreated well water. The two residences serviced by the well each have water treatment systems that can reduce manganese to levels that do not present a health concern.
As a result of the two rounds of sampling at these four wells, EPA has determined that it is no longer necessary to provide residents with alternative water. EPA is working with residents on the schedule to disconnect the alternate water sources provided by EPA.
Overall during the sampling in Dimock, EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels 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. EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.
For more information on the results of sampling, visit: http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/states/pa.html .
By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
Published: April 28, 2012
State environmental regulators are investigating a possible case of methane migrating into water supplies just north of the 9-square-mile box in Dimock Township where the state halted a gas driller’s operations because of methane contamination in 2010.
Regulators with the state Department of Environmental Protection emphasized that they have not determined the source of elevated methane discovered in two Susquehanna County water wells and whether it is caused by Marcellus Shale drilling or a natural occurrence of gas in the aquifer.
One focus of the investigation is Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.’s Greenwood 1 well, where the company recently squeezed additional cement between steel barriers that are meant to seal off gas and fluids from the aquifer.
The work in late March was an effort to stop the problem, DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said, even though inspectors have not pinpointed the well as the cause.
“The next step is to determine the effectiveness of the remediation work and to continue water well sampling,” he said.
Regulators began investigating the elevated methane levels in August 2010 after a resident complained about water quality.
The gas wells being evaluated are less than 400 feet from the northern boundary of a section of Dimock where Cabot’s drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations have been on hold since April 2010, when state regulators blamed faulty Cabot wells for allowing shallow methane to channel into 18 private water wells. Cabot disputes the state’s findings in that case.
The current investigation is separate from the ongoing review of Cabot’s wells in the off-limits area.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said Friday that the company “always investigates landowners’ concerns as they are brought to our attention. Cabot has been working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection on this matter and will continue to do so with the best interest of our landowners in mind.”
Neither of the two water wells involved in the current investigation has been vented because one well is buried and has not been located and inspections of the other have not found gas trapped in the open space above the water in the well, Sunday said.
Methane in drinking water is not known to cause any health risks, but at high concentrations it can seep out of water into the air and create an explosion hazard in enclosed spaces.
The state has not reached a determination 20 months into the investigation because a number of factors need to be considered, including the construction of nearby gas wells and identifying features of the methane, DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.
“It’s not different from any case,” she said. “There are just many issues to deal with.”
The Greenwood 1 well was the first Marcellus Shale well drilled by Cabot in Dimock, in September 2007, according to state records.
Three horizontal wells later drilled on the same pad in November 2009 and May 2010 were among the top-producing wells in the state early last year.
Those wells, the Greenwood 6, 7 and 8, have also been evaluated as part of the investigation. Cabot was cited by DEP for a “failure to case and cement” the three wells “to prevent migrations into fresh groundwater” in January 2011 but Cabot has argued in a letter to the state that the wells were properly constructed and the violations should be rescinded.
Connolly said that DEP is addressing the violations with Cabot. The defects cited by the department “could have been a means of allowing methane to migrate into the fresh groundwater, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the water supply has been impacted,” she said.
Testing at 20 more water wells in a northeastern Pennsylvania community at the center of a debate over the safety of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale shows no dangerous levels of contamination, according to a report issued Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA had already tested 11 wells in Dimock, showing the presence of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria in six of the wells before the results of the latest round of testing.
Three of the newly-tested wells showed methane while one showed barium well above the EPA’s maximum level, but a treatment system installed in the well is removing the substance, an EPA spokesman said.
Featured in the documentary “Gasland,” the Susquehanna County village of Dimock has been at the center of a fierce debate over drilling, in particular the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals deep underground to free trapped natural gas so it can be brought to the surface.
State environmental regulators previously determined that Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. contaminated the aquifer underneath homes along Carter Road in Dimock with explosive levels of methane gas, although they later determined the company had met its obligation to provide safe drinking water to residents.
The EPA is still providing drinking water to three homes where prior tests showed contamination. A second round of tests is under way, regulators said.
A group of Dimock residents suing Cabot assert their water is also polluted with drilling chemicals, while others say that the water is clean and the plaintiffs are exaggerating problems with their wells to help their lawsuit.
A Cabot spokesman said in a statement Friday that the “data confirms the earlier EPA finding that levels of contaminants found do not possess a threat to human health and the environment.”
“Importantly, the EPA again did not indicate that those contaminants that were detected bore any relationship to oil and gas development in the Dimock area, particularly given the fact that any contaminants are more likely indicative of naturally-occurring background levels or other unrelated activities,” the statement said.
By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
Published: March 16, 2012
The first 11 Dimock Township water supplies tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not reveal levels of contamination that could present a health concern, but the samples indicated the presence of arsenic and other compounds that will require further tests at some homes, the agency said Thursday.
Agency officials hand delivered test results to residents whose wells were sampled during the week of Jan. 23 and will meet again with the families individually to review the results and answer questions.
The first test results reported Thursday represent about a sixth of the data collected by the EPA over weeks of sampling in a nine-square-mile area of Dimock where the agency is investigating the potential impact of nearby natural gas drilling on water supplies.
In a statement Thursday, the EPA said samples from six of the 11 homes showed concentrations of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but all were within the safe range for drinking water. The sampling results also identified arsenic in two homes’ water supplies, both of which are being sampled again by the agency.
“Although the (arsenic) levels meet drinking water standards, we will resample to better characterize the water quality of these wells,” EPA spokesman Roy Seneca said in the statement.
Three of the 11 homes tested during the first week of sampling are receiving replacement water deliveries from the EPA. Those deliveries will continue “while we perform additional sampling to ensure that the drinking water quality at these homes remains consistent and acceptable for use over time,” Seneca said.
The agency began testing about 60 water wells in January after the EPA’s review of past tests by the state and other groups raised concerns about contamination from Marcellus Shale drilling.
Seneca said that the agency will share more test results with Dimock homeowners “as further quality assured data becomes available for the remaining homes.”
The statement released by the EPA did not include a complete list of the compounds detected in the first 11 water supplies.
In the test results given to the families, the EPA highlighted compounds found at concentrations that exceeded what the agency described as “trigger levels” based on risk-based screening levels or the standards for public drinking water supplies.
Although all of the results were reviewed by a toxicologist before they were presented to residents, compounds above a trigger level were reviewed sooner by toxicologists and processed quicker by the agency “should we need to take an immediate action to provide water,” Seneca said.
“EPA conducted those reviews and found no health concerns,” he said.
Dimock resident Scott Ely said his test results showed five compounds above their trigger levels, including arsenic, chromium, lithium, sodium and fluoride. The arsenic level in his well water, 7.6 micrograms per liter, was below the federal drinking water standard of 10 micrograms per liter but above the 3 micrograms per liter chronic drinking water screening level for children established by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Ely, who has three small children in his home, said the results reveal “nothing surprising: my water is contaminated.”
The number of compounds in his water well that triggered an expedited toxicological review “just confirms that we have issues,” he said.
The natural gas industry said that the results confirm that their operations have not affected drinking water.
George Stark, a spokesman for Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., the firm drilling extensively in the township, said the company is “pleased that data released by EPA today on sampling of water in Dimock confirmed earlier findings that Dimock drinking water meets all regulatory standards.”
He said that the company will continue to work with the EPA as well as state and local regulators to address concerns in Dimock, but he chided federal regulators for intervening in the case.
“We hope that lessons learned from EPA’s experience in Dimock will result in the agency improving cooperation with all stakeholders and to establish a firmer basis for agency decision making in the future,” he said.
Mar 6, 2012
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and its supporters are at odds with the federal agency.
DIMOCK — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s testing of scores of water wells will give residents of this small Suquehanna County village a snapshot of the aquifer they rely on for drinking, cooking and bathing.
The first EPA test results, expected this week, are certain to provide fodder for both sides of a raging 3-year-old debate over unconventional natural gas drilling and its impacts on Dimock, a rural crossroads that starred in the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Gasland.”
A handful of residents are suing Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., saying the Houston-based driller contaminated their wells with potentially explosive methane gas and with drilling chemicals. Many other residents of Dimock assert the water is clean, and that the plaintiffs are exaggerating problems with their wells to help their lawsuit.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a pro-drilling group called Enough is Enough contends the agency’s “rogue” Philadelphia field office has allowed itself to be a pawn of trial lawyers seeking a big payout from Cabot. More than 300 people signed it. “Dimock Proud” signs dot lawns throughout the village in Susquehanna County, one of the most intensively drilled regions of the Marcellus Shale gas field.
The same group recently launched a website aimed at dispelling what it contends is the myth that Dimock’s aquifer is contaminated.
Residents who have been clamoring for federal intervention say the attacks on the EPA — which have come not only from their neighbors but from Cabot and Pennsylvania’s environmental chief — are groundless.
“Since the EPA’s investigation began, Cabot and (state regulators) have undertaken a shameless public campaign against the EPA’s attempt to rescue the victims who are now without potable water and prevent their exposure to hazardous constituents now present in the aquifer,” one of their lawyers, Tate Kunkle, wrote recently.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company opposed the EPA testing because it creates a false impression about Dimock.
“It’s the notion that there must be something wrong there in order for the EPA to either do testing or to deliver water. I think it causes more concern, more mistrust, more misinformation about the industry overall,” he said.
In addition to testing scores of water wells, the EPA is paying to deliver fresh water to four homes where the agency cited worrisome levels of manganese, sodium and cancer-causing arsenic.
Brian Oram, an independent geologist and water consultant from Northeastern Pennsylvania, said he is puzzled by the agency’s rationale for being in Dimock, since the substances that EPA said it’s most concerned about are naturally occurring and commonly found in the regional groundwater.
Nevertheless, Oram supports the EPA testing because it will provide water quality data the parties can trust, and against which future drilling can be measured.
Cabot asserts the high methane levels that its own testing has consistently found in the Dimock water wells are naturally occurring and easily remediated.
But state regulators have cited “overwhelming evidence,” including chemical fingerprinting, that linked the methane in Dimock’s water supply to improperly cemented gas wells drilled by Cabot.
By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
Published: February 9, 2012
Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania were cited for more than 3,300 violations of state environmental laws in the last four years, according to a tally released Wednesday by the environmental organization PennEnvironment.
The data, compiled from state records, revealed a wide array of violations committed by 64 different companies.
More than two-thirds of the violations were for problems likely to have an environmental impact while less than a third were related to paperwork or permitting, according to PennEnvironment’s sorting of the codes the state uses to designate violations.
The organization removed duplicate violation data and looked to descriptions or legal citations in violation reports to interpret violations classified under non-specific codes by state regulators, PennEnvironment spokeswoman Erika Staaf said.
Erosion and sedimentation problems were the most common source of environmental violations, with 625 citations, followed by faulty pollution prevention controls (550), improper waste management (340), and pollution discharges (307).
PennEnvironment found that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. had the most violations with 412, including 161 in 2011 – the most violations by a Marcellus Shale driller last year.
Chesapeake Appalachia, Chief Oil and Gas, and Talisman Energy USA all had more than 300 violations during the four-year study period, although Talisman cut its violations from 154 in 2010 to just 30 in 2011, according to the report.
Of drillers with more than 10 Marcellus wells in the state, XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary, had the highest rate of violations, with an average of three violations for every well it drilled.
Staaf said the study “demonstrates that Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies are either unable or unwilling to comply with basic environmental laws that have been put in place to protect the health and environment of Pennsylvanians.”
The organization called on state leaders to halt shale gas drilling until companies prove it can be done safely.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said PennEnvironment lost all credibility when it circulated a photo of a flooded drilling rig from Pakistan last fall and mistakenly described it as a Marcellus Shale operation.
“Natural gas development, which supports nearly 229,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, is aggressively and tightly regulated,” coalition spokesman Steve Forde said. “Suggesting otherwise may grab a headline or two, but such claims are simply not supported by the facts.”
By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
Published: February 1, 2012
Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. sharply criticized federal regulators’ rationale for investigating a potential link between the company’s natural gas operations and contamination in Dimock Township water supplies on Tuesday, saying the government selectively cited or misinterpreted past water quality data to justify its probe.
The statement was Cabot’s fifth in less than two weeks seeking to raise doubts about an ongoing investigation renewed in December by the Environmental Protection Agency that involves widespread water sampling in the Susquehanna County township where Cabot has drilled dozens of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells.
The EPA is providing replacement drinking water supplies to four homes where water tests taken by Cabot, the state and others raised health concerns the agency said range from “potential” to “imminent and substantial” threats. It is also performing comprehensive water tests on as many as 66 wells in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock.
In its statement Tuesday, Cabot said the data shows there are “no health concerns with the water wells.” Instead, the agency’s decision to deliver water was based on data points the EPA selected over years of Cabot sampling, the company said, “without adequate knowledge or consideration of where or why the samples were collected, when they were taken, or the naturally occurring background levels for those substances throughout the Susquehanna County area.”
“It appears that EPA selectively chose data on substances it was concerned about in order to reach a result it had predetermined,” it said.
In its statement and through a spokesman, Cabot said the data highlighted by the EPA to justify its investigation is often old, “cherry-picked” to ignore more representative data, mistakenly attributed to the wrong sources or explained by natural conditions.
For example, the driller said the evidence EPA highlighted to show high arsenic levels in one water well was actually “a sample of the local public water supply that is provided to the town of Montrose by Pennsylvania American Water” – a contention Pennsylvania American Water refuted Tuesday with test data from the Montrose public water supply.
“We test for arsenic in all of our water systems,” Pennsylvania American Water spokeswoman Susan Turcmanovich said. “If there was any detection of arsenic at any level, it would be reported in the water quality report” sent to all of its customers and posted online. The reports for 2010 and 2011 show arsenic was not detected at any level, she said.
Cabot said a high sodium level cited by the EPA was found in a sample that was taken after the water ran through a softener, which raised the sodium by three to four times the level found straight from the water well.
It also said arsenic and manganese – two of the contaminants found at elevated levels and flagged by the EPA – are naturally occurring and “not associated with natural gas drilling.”
Both compounds are often found in the large quantities of wastewater that flow back from Marcellus Shale wells after hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company does not use either compound in its operations and there is “no natural pathway” underground for the wastewater to reach aquifers.
The EPA did not issue a direct response to Cabot’s newest statement. Instead, it released a letter from an assistant administrator and regional administrator sent Tuesday in response to an earlier letter from Cabot CEO Dan Dinges to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson raising concerns about the investigation.
“We did not take this step lightly but felt compelled to intervene when we became aware of monitoring data, developed largely by Cabot, indicating the presence of several hazardous substances in drinking water samples, including some at levels of health concern,” wrote Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and Region 3 Administrator Shawn M. Garvin.
“Because the data available was incomplete and of uncertain quality, we determined that additional monitoring was prudent.”
The agency began providing replacement water only after it asked Cabot to deliver water and the company refused, they wrote.
Under criticism from both Cabot and Pennsylvania regulators for their actions, the administrators also emphasized the legal and scientific basis for their actions, which they called complementary with the state’s role. The Superfund law, which the EPA said authorizes its Dimock investigation, has allowed the agency to undertake similar water deliveries and investigations at “hundreds of sites across the country … when the presence of hazardous substances posed a potential risk to drinking water.” they wrote.
“States have important frontÂline responsibilities in permitting natural gas extraction, and we respect and support their efforts,” they wrote. “But EPA likewise has important oversight responsibilities and acts as a critical backstop when public health or the environment may be at risk.”
January 27, 2012
There is now a response to a response.
Two days ago Cabot Oil and Gas criticized the federal government’s deliveries of fresh water and its testing of several wells in Susquehanna County.
Now the EPA responds to Cabot.
One week ago the Environmental Protection Agency started delivering the water to a handful of homes suspected of having their wells contaminated by Cabot’s natural gas drilling in the Dimock area.
Cabot called the move a “political agenda hostile to shale gas development.”
Friday the EPA responded by saying, “It is sampling and providing water as a direct result of requests from Dimock residents. Our priority is the health of the people there, and our actions are guided entirely by science and the law.”