Amid drilling fight, Dimock gets public water. The state, which will fund the project, says Cabot Oil & Gas contaminated wells.
DIMOCK – Residents of Dimock, the Susquehanna County community at the center of a nationwide debate over natural gas drilling, will soon be connected to a public water supply, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger announced Thursday. The state-funded project will connect Pennsylvania American Water’s Lake Montrose treatment plant to 18 homes in Dimock.
For two years, drinking water for 33 Dimock residents has been supplied by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, the natural gas drilling company that DEP says contaminated the water wells of some Dimock residents with methane and natural gas.
More than 100 reporters, photographers, filmmakers, spokespersons and residents of the Susquehanna County community packed the tiny Dimock Baptist Church to hear the announcement.
Hanger said DEP will fully fund the project, now slated to cost $11.8 million, though the department still insists that Cabot foot the bill. Hanger said DEP will pursue litigation against Cabot if necessary to recoup the cost of the project, but that the department did not want to wait any longer to provide a permanent source of clean drinking water to Dimock residents.
“We have had people here in Pennsylvania without safe drinking water for nearly two years,” Hanger said. “That is totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible. We have given Cabot every opportunity to resolve this matter.… We’re not going to wait to go through long legal proceedings with Cabot to get this started.”
A new 12-inch transmission main will transport water approximately 5.5 miles from the Pennsylvania American Water’s Lake Montrose plant south along state Route 29 into Dimock. Approximately seven miles of 6-inch distribution mains will connect the main to the homes of 18 families. Other Dimock residents seeking connection to the water supply may also contact Pennsylvania American Water about gaining access, Pennsylvania American Water President Kathy Pape said.
Pape said the project, which will also involve the installation of pressure regulating systems, hydrants and water treatment systems, will take 18 months to complete once ground has been broken. The company is also waiting on a state grant to come through before that happens, however, and Pape said work on the project will most likely not begin for a few months.
On Wednesday, Cabot published full page ads in several newspapers around the Dimock area, and also sent out press releases and 29-page letter defending the company. In those documents, Cabot denies responsibility for water well contamination in Dimock and claims that DEP is waging a public relations war against the company.
“They have even gone so far as to say that they signed these under duress,” Hanger said, later adding, “the last time I checked, (Cabot President Dan O.) Dinges is not a 90-year-old widow sitting in a nursing home who is incompetent to sign a legal document … he is fully capable to sign documents without counsel, but he had counsel.
A Cabot spokesman, George Stark, attended the meeting but was not allowed to speak by Hanger.
“I am not interested in hearing from Cabot at this point,” Hanger said.
Stark spoke outside the church following the meeting, saying Cabot is investigating all its options and would schedule meetings with DEP to discuss the matter. Stark said Cabot would like DEP to consider other, less expensive measures to deal with the problem, such as drilling new water wells, refurbishing and reconditioning existing wells and installing water filtration systems.
“We understand what is being laid on the table today, but we still believe there are other options,” Stark said.
Josh Fox, the filmmaker who put Dimock at the center of the national debate over natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in his documentary Gasland, also attended the meeting and staged a small demonstration highlighting the precedent he thinks Hanger’s announcement may set.
Fox distributed signs depicting water towers, each labeled with the name of a different Pennsylvania community, including Towanda, Lenox, and Clearville, followed by the phrase “needs municipal water.”
“It looks like this is setting a trend in Pennsylvania, that once this drilling starts, you’re going to have municipal water coming in,” Fox said.
Fox said there have been “significant reports” of water contamination near gas drilling sites in other parts of the state, and asked Hanger whether the state would also connect those areas to a municipal water supply.
Hanger responded that, in a worst case scenario, DEP would need to take similar action, but said that confirmed reports of contamination are rare, and that other companies have been much better than Cabot at resolving the contamination in those cases.
“We have companies that are actually solving problems, as opposed to denying problems,” Hanger said.
--MATT HUGHES firstname.lastname@example.org