U.S. tests air, wa­ter in vil­lage

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Michael Ru­binkam

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has re­turned to a Penn­syl­va­nia vil­lage that be­came a flash­point in the na­tional de­bate over frack­ing to in­ves­ti­gate on­go­ing com­plaints about the qual­ity of the drink­ing wa­ter.

Gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists are col­lect­ing wa­ter and air sam­ples this week from 25 homes in Di­mock, a tiny cross­roads about 150 miles north of Phil­a­del­phia.

“Take a skunk and ev­ery house­hold chem­i­cal, put it in a blender, puree it for five min­utes and take a whiff,” said Di­mock res­i­dent Ray Kem­ble, 61, de­scrib­ing the smell of his well wa­ter. “It burns the back of your throat, makes you gag, makes you want to puke.”

He said in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the Agency for Toxic Sub­stances and Dis­ease Reg­istry, a fed­eral pub­lic health agency, were at his house Mon­day.

Frack­ing is a drilling method that uses huge amounts of pres­sur­ized wa­ter, sand and chem­i­cals to ex­tract oil and nat­u­ral gas from rock for­ma­tions.

Di­mock was the scene of the most highly pub­li­cized case of meth­ane con­tam­i­na­tion to emerge from the early days of Penn­syl­va­nia’s nat­u­ral gas-drilling boom.

State reg­u­la­tors blamed faulty gas wells drilled by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. for leak­ing com­bustible meth­ane into Di­mock’s ground­wa­ter.

Cabot, one of the largest nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­ers in the state, has con­sis­tently de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity, say­ing meth­ane was an is­sue in the ground­wa­ter long be­fore it be­gan drilling.

“Nu­mer­ous sets of data col­lected over the past sev­eral years in Di­mock, by both EPA and DEP, have con­firmed there is no threat to hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment,” said com­pany spokesman Ge­orge Stark, re­fer­ring to fed­eral and state en­vi­ron­men­tal agen­cies.

The Agency for Toxic Sub­stances and Dis­ease Reg­istry said Thurs­day it is test­ing the wa­ter for bac­te­ria, gases and chem­i­cals. The agency is also test­ing in­door air for radon.

Sam­pling re­sults are ex­pected in the fall, which will be shared with res­i­dents. A re­port will be re­leased to the pub­lic next year.

“Res­i­dents have con­tin­ued to raise con­cerns about nat­u­ral gas ac­tiv­i­ties im­pact­ing their pri­vate wa­ter well qual­ity,” the agency said in a state­ment. It said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will “de­ter­mine if there are drink­ing wa­ter qual­ity is­sues that may con­tinue to pose a health threat.”

For a time, Di­mock was ground zero in en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists’ fight against frack­ing.

The vil­lage was fea­tured in the Emmy-win­ning 2010 doc­u­men­tary “Gasland,” which showed res­i­dents light­ing their tap wa­ter on fire.

Drilling sup­port­ers have long ac­cused Di­mock res­i­dents of seek­ing money and at­ten­tion.

Kem­ble, who be­came a high-pro­file anti-drilling ac­tivist af­ter his wa­ter well was con­tam­i­nated, said his wa­ter got worse af­ter Cabot fracked three wells near his house.

He said he fills a large plas­tic tank on his prop­erty with clean wa­ter he hauls from a neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity.

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