Almost three weeks after federal regulators revisited families in Dimock, Pa., the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it will test water samples from at least 60 homes in the area.
And in a move that defies pronouncements made by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the EPA also announced it is making sure four households who say their water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing for natural gas drilling will be receiving fresh water shipments.
The deliveries, announced the EPA, reflect data that suggests the well water contains levels of contaminants that pose a health concern.
According to data complied by the EPA, and available for review on its Web site, regulators found evidence of Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, a plasticizer, glycols, known drilling chemicals, manganese and arsenic, all of which are considered hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and the EPA's National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.
In November, using water data compiled by Cabot Oil and the state's DEP, the EPA ruled the wells' water was safe to drink.
George Stark, a spokesman for Cabot Oil, said the company stands by its pronouncement, and added any discrepancy in the water data should be explained by the EPA.
In December, additional water data made confidential by Cabot Oil was made available, and Dimock residents sent the data to the EPA after obligatory water shipments to residents was halted on Nov. 31; the EPA started revisiting the data and reassessed its stance. Late in December, regulators visited the town to compile more data.
They've seen enough to bring us water tomorrow, said Julie Sautner, who along with her husband, has been vocal in her efforts to hold their state and Cabot Oil accountable for the alleged contamination. Sautner added her home is one the four to receive water shipments. We thought our government had failed us.
But Katy Gresh, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's DEP, said the EPA was not providing any new data in their findings.
Our review, so far, tells us that EPA does not seem to have presented any new data here, Gresh said. We agree that additional sampling should be conducted in Dimock and we are actively working with EPA to conduct additional sampling at the affected homes and at 57 other residences.
The new water samples will be taken in a matter of days and the EPA expects it will take approximately three weeks for regulators to test all the samples. Results should be known in four to five weeks from when the samples are taken, announced the EPA.
EPA is working diligently to understand the situation in Dimock and address residents' concerns, said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. We believe that the information provided to us by the residents deserves further review, and conducting our own sampling will help us fill information gaps. Our actions will be based on the science and the law and we will work to help get a more complete picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock.
The EPA was quick to point out that samples will be limited to those wells it has permission to test. This will be the first time the agency has officially tested the water that residents like Julie Sautner and her husband have decried as contaminated since 2008.
I am extremely relieved, Sautner said. Very satisfied and very relieved. I haven't felt that way in a long time. I feel like I've won the lottery, and all we are getting is water.
The Sautners, along with roughly a dozen other families have been living without well water for several years - since they refuse to use the water for fear of the contamination.
Sautner said her water coming from a test tap that is connected to her well, her home's only source of water, looked like coffee mixed with milk.
I am not a scientist, but I could tell my water was not water, Sautner said.