EPA Says No Evidence Fracking Polluted Water In Rural Pa.

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  • Dimock residents Craig and Julie Sautner
    Dimock residents Craig and Julie Sautner on the steps of New York's City Hall. They have been fighting Cabot Oil and Gas since 2008 for fresh water after Pennsylvania's DEP ruled that the company had contaminated their well, which the oil company and the state's DEP have now declared safe after clean-up efforts.
  • Dimock, Pa., water
    A Dimock, Pa., resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in 2009.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing caused ground water contamination in a hamlet in rural Pennsylvania.

The finding could be a major impetus to further expansion of the lucrative but controversial practice throughout the country. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling technique for natural gas in which high volumes of water, chemicals and sand are injected underground to fracture shale rock formations. Natural gas trapped in the rock is released and then extracted.

The EPA investigated claims made by families in Dimock, Pa., a hamlet in northeastern Susquehanna County with a population of 128, that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE: COG) contaminated groundwater to 11 homes. But it said the claims were unfounded.

The EPA's finding is likely to engender controversy among Dimock's residents.

My Water Not Water

I am not a scientist, but I could tell my water was not water, Dimock resident Julie Sautner said in a previous interview. She claimed Cabot polluted the well by her home.

Since 2008, the residents have battled state regulators and Cabot Oil. Both maintain the water is safe.

The latest water tests upheld the EPA's initial ruling in November, when regulators reviewed state and Cabot testing data and concluded groundwater in the town posed no immediate health concern.

Last month, however, the EPA announced it was going to test water samples collected in 60 wells throughout the town. At the time, the EPA said it found gaps in testing data, and decided it was worth making sure residents were not exposed to hazardous materials.

At the time, Cabot Oil claimed the EPA's understand of the Dimock water debate was rudimentary and that its concerns were inconsistent with the findings of state regulators who have concluded after extensive investigation that Dimock drinking water meets regulatory standards.

Cabot is steadfastly committed to environmental stewardship, collaboration with state regulators, and compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws, said Cabot spokesman, George Stark. We are pleased that data released by EPA today on sampling of water in Dimock confirmed earlier findings that Dimock drinking water meets all regulatory standards.

Eleven homes were tested and their results didn't show levels of contamination that could present a health concern, said the EPA. Federal regulators also found traces of arsenic sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria but those levels were within safe ranges. Two homes will be retested.

After receiving results from the second round of sampling, EPA will re-evaluate the need to continue providing an alternate water source, the agency said. EPA has offered to meet with all the residents to go over their data and answer any health-related concerns.

Water Like Coffee

On Jan. 19, the EPA said it would provide fresh water shipments to several homes in Dimock because local residents refuse to drink or use their water despite the installation of a filtration system.

Some residents, such as Julie and Craig Sautner, said water coming from a test tap that is connected to their well looks like coffee mixed with milk.

More testing information will be made available in a few weeks as the EPA incrementally releases testing data of the 60 homes it agreed to monitor.

Shares of Cabot Oil & Gas fell 9 cents to $32.95 at midday. They've gained 40 percent over the past year.

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