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Internal EPA Presentation Reveals Dispute Over Fracking Contamination in Dimock Wells

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 09:40 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | News
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Methane gas is burned off at a well pad near Dimock, Penn., Nov. 27, 2011. Americans have signed millions of leases allowing oil and gas companies to drill on their land, but some landowners are finding out the hard way what their contracts actually say. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times) Methane gas is burned off at a well pad near Dimock, Penn., Nov. 27, 2011. Americans have signed millions of leases allowing oil and gas companies to drill on their land, but some landowners are finding out the hard way what their contracts actually say. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

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In May 2012, Truthout reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that water in wells at 61 homes in rural Dimock, Pennsylvania, was safe to drink despite the presence of pollutants in several of the wells. The agency had spent four months testing the wells after residents in the rural neighborhood complained that nearby fracking operations had spoiled their water supplies, but after releasing seemingly conflicting results, the EPA closed its investigation.

Now, an internal Power Point presentation obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicates that EPA staff members warned their superiors that more testing should be done at Dimock because of the presence of contaminants such as methane, arsenic and barium, most likely the result of fracking:

The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that "methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality." The presentation also concluded that "methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work."

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators determined that Cabot Oil and Gas had contaminated the wells of 19 residents with methane while drilling for natural gas and ordered the company to stop operating in the area and deliver fresh water to the families who had been affected. State regulators later lifted a moratorium on drilling in the area and allowed Cabot to cease water deliveries, but some residents continued to report problems with their water, drawing national media attention and the federal study that concluded last year.

At the time, Truthout's analysis of the EPA data found that water in several wells contained pollutants at levels that exceed federal safety standards, but the EPA said at the time that the well owners either had filters to clean the water or declined to have their water replaced.

The EPA told the LA Times that the PowerPoint presentation was the preliminary work of one employee.

"This presentation represents one [on-scene coordinator's] thoughts regarding 12 samples and was not shared with the public because it was a preliminary evaluation that requires additional assessment in order to ascertain its quality and validity," EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told the LA Times.

The revelations come at a time when the EPA is completing a multiyear study on fracking and water contamination, which is due next year, and critics say the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about fracking and water quality.

Last week, the Department of Energy released the preliminary results of a study that found that a fracking operation in Pennsylvania monitored by researchers did not threaten underground water supplies. Almost simultaneously, the government filed a lawsuit on behalf of the EPA against an ExxonMobil subsidiary for allegedly contaminating water supplies while fracking in Pennsylvania.

The EPA also has come under fire for recently dropping a high-profile investigation into alleged water contamination in Texas and postponing another high-profile investigation in Wyoming.

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