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ATTORNEY BLOG: EPA study concludes that well water is safe to drink in Dimock, Pa.

By: T.H. Lyda, Esq.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that drinking water is safe to consume in Dimock, Pa., a town that has attracted national attention after residents complained about hydraulic fracturing allegedly leading to contaminated water. EPA released the final set of data on May 11 and found no reason for further action.

The EPA completed testing water at 61 homes in Dimock where residents have complained since 2009 of cloudy, foul-smelling water after Cabot Oil & Gas Corp drilled for gas nearby.

“This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,” Roy Seneca, a spokesman for the regional EPA office said in a story written on May 11 by the Associated Press about the final set of data released Friday. The agency released data for only 59 of the homes, as they could not contact residents at two of them.

Dimock became ground zero for the debate about fracking after Josh Fox, the director of the controversial 2010 documentary called “Gasland,” visited the town and met residents who feared their water was contaminated by the drilling. Fox has been criticized for the approach taken during the film and not relying upon sound science. The film arguably mischaracterizes drilling and hydrofracking and glosses over facts that contradict Fox’s view of the alleged dangers of the activity.

Environmental and health groups, however, say that some fracking operations near homes and schools pollute land and water although the evidence suggests that this long-time practice is safe and a key to America’s energy independence. Techniques including fracking have revolutionized the U.S. natural gas industry by giving companies access to vast new reserves that could supply the country’s demand for 100 years.

The EPA reported it will re-sample four wells where previous Cabot and state data showed levels of contaminants, but where EPA’s first round of testing did not find levels that would require action, Seneca said in the story.

The agency found one well in the last batch of data that contained methane, a main component of natural gas.

Seneca would not say what the agency thought the source of that methane was, but said the agency will conduct a review of the data.

Residents have complained that methane could be from fracking, but methane frequently occurs naturally in wells in energy-rich areas and can come from many sources.

Over the course of the EPA tests that have been released since mid-March, contaminants were found in some wells but the EPA said those levels were safe. In the first set of tests, for example, six of 11 homes showed concentrations of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria. Arsenic was also found at two homes, but, again, levels were deemed safe.

Contaminants found in the tests are more likely indicative of naturally occurring background levels or from other non-fracking activities. Arsenic is frequently found in well water all over the United States and naturally occurs when soils and ores weather and decompose.