© 2024 Innovation Trail

Dimock, Pa.: A cautionary tale

Jugs of well water on the ground outside a house
Emma Jacobs
Jugs of well water in front of a home on Carter Road.

Dimock, Pennsylvania has become a shorthand term for problems with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. Gas driller Cabot has been accused of contaminating a number of water wells there.

That's an all-too-familiar reality for Ron Carter. He's reclining on the front porch of his home when the telephone rings.

“Oh,” he says, “British Broadcasting again."

Carter has had network news, local papers, and senators on the front lawn, because of his well water.  His home is situated next to a drill site on his neighbor’s land. Beside his house, a white pipe vents methane gas building up in his water well.

Carter Road has become media central for Pennsylvania water contamination. Methane levels for families like the Carters (their relationship to their street’s namesake is unclear) have gotten so high that environmental regulators thought the well could explode.  As a result, the Carters’ well was shut off, and they’ve been getting water delivered since then.

Down the road, the Carters’ neighbor, Bill Illy fills a jug full of water from his well. Then he sets it on fire.  It’s pretty clear to him that there’s gas in the wells, though drilling company Cabot, which owns the wells in the area, has denied responsibility.

Concern about water are running high in drilling areas of New York and Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago it was standing room only at a meeting about how to read water test results. But Brian Swistock, water resources specialist for Penn Coop Extension, says the several hundred attendees at the event, held at the Towanda Gun Club, are just a fraction of the people that he’s spoken to in Northern Pennsylvania.

Anxiety around water quality is high, but Swistock says the big spikes of substances in people’s water that signal a problem aren’t something he sees often.

“That’s kind of what we’d expect to see,” he notes, “occasional sporadic problems here and there, something less than a couple percent.”

The creeping growth of reported problems has caused concern. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has fined Cabot for faulty well construction and spills in a number of locations. Thursday, the head of the DEP announced the agency will install a municipal water system for Carter Road residents with methane in their wells. The DEP wants Cabot to pay the costs.

George Stark, spokesman for Cabot says Cabot began providing water to Carter road residents as a courtesy but the company doesn’t believe they’re responsible for the contamination.

“We’ve presented to DEP overwhelming scientific evidence and historical documentation that we are not responsible for the methane gas migration that’s occurring in local wells,” states Stark.

More recently, Carter Road residents produced tests that also found toxic chemicals in their water. Again, Stark says Cabot is not responsible, claiming they have not used these chemicals near the affected homes.

Cabot would pay for filtration systems for affected water wells in addition to water deliveries, but said in a statement that being asked to pay for the ten million dollar public water system is “unreasonable, unprecedented, and unfair.”


Want to comment on this story?  Visit our Facebook page.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.