Adding Injury to Insult: Cabot Wants Dimock Residents to Drink Polluted Water

 Recently, I blogged how on how the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was planning to allow Cabot to terminate its provision of fresh, drinkable water to the residents of Dimock, PA on November 30.  Since the contamination of Dimock groundwater three years ago as a result of Cabot’s shoddy drilling practices, residents have had to suffer the indignity of relying on daily delivery of bottled water for all of their drinking and cooking needs, as well as refills of  water in outdoor water containers, called “water buffaloes” for bathing and washing clothes.  These water buffaloes freeze in the cold Pennsylvania winter if not heated, and the added cost for heating the buffaloes year round has been borne by the residents.

Now after two years of water deliveries DEP is allowing Cabot to add injury to insult by substituting this already second-rate arrangement with no water at all.  Despite their desperate pleas to the DEP not to let Cabot cut them off, as of December 1st, Cabot stopped making water deliveries.  This leaves the affected families with no choice but to either pay – at extreme cost – for continued water deliveries, or to drink and bathe with the contaminated water in their wells.  For the record, this is water that contains an alphabet soup of dangerous contaminants, including lead, beryllium, iron, manganese, and non-naturally occurring chemicals associated with fracking such as bis (2-Ethylhexyl) adipate, bis (2- Ethylhexyl) phthalate, and ethylene glycol.  (Cabot has offered to install a so-called “whole house methane treatment system,” but not only does that system not target many of the contaminants at issue, experts say it cannot be installed in homes – like many of those in Dimock – with high iron content in the water.)

And it gets worse.  Appalled by DEP’s and Cabot’s actions, on Friday Matt Ryan, mayor of Binghamton, NY (a city that is itself in the heart of Marcellus country and at risk if and when NY permits new fracking), offered to provide a tanker full of clean drinking water to the affected families.  But following lobbying by members of a local group supported by Cabot, the township of Dimock refused to sign a mutual aid agreement that was necessary for Binghamton to defray the costs of the rented tanker.  The residents spent the weekend attempting to conserve the last of the water from Cabot’s final delivery on Wednesday, and supplementing with pond and creek water that they chlorinated themselves.

Happily, today the Binghamton tanker came despite Dimock township’s foot dragging, after the Sierra Club stepped up to pay the costs.  Tomorrow, another tanker will bring fresh water from NYC’s watershed thanks to the efforts of FrackAction and United for Action.  That delivery will be accompanied by a press conference and rally in Dimock.  Mark Ruffalo and Gasland director Josh Fox will join sponsoring organizations in delivering the emergency water relief to local families.

But the affected residents of Dimock cannot count on the kindness of others forever.  They need a permanent solution.  That is why NRDC is stepping in to help represent the families in their legal battle to require DEP to force Cabot to reinstate its deliveries of clean drinking water and, ultimately, to provide a permanent alternative to the contaminated water in their wells.

It is time to send a message to the state of Pennsylvania and the gas industry that we will not stand silently by while they deprive the victims of shoddy fracking of their basic human right to clean water.