BY DAVID SINGLETON Drilling by a natural gas extraction company caused methane contamination in private water wells in Susquehanna County’s Dimock Township, state regulators say.
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The state Department of Environmental Protection notified Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. in a Feb. 27 letter that the company is in violation of two state laws — the Clean Streams Law and the Oil and Gas Act — for allowing natural gas to contaminate groundwater in the vicinity of Carter Road.
The notice of violation comes amid an ongoing investigation into a New Year’s Day explosion that shattered a concrete slab covering a private water well in the township. The company has until Friday to submit a plan to DEP to resolve the violations.
“We have been working on this and we are going to continue to work on this until we solve the problem,” Mark Carmon, spokesman for DEP’s regional office in Wilkes-Barre, said Tuesday.
Cabot spokesman Ken Komoroski said the company doesn’t necessarily agree with the department’s conclusions, calling them premature. The company is awaiting a report from a hydrogeologist it hired to evaluate how gas might be migrating into the groundwater supply.
“It could be unrelated to natural gas-drilling activities, or it could be the result of Cabot’s activities,” Komoroski said. “These are all possibilities.”
Among other things, DEP is asking the company to install methane gas detectors in the living spaces of nine homes where elevated levels of dissolved methane have been found in the water supply. The concern is methane vapor could accumulate in enclosed laundry rooms, showers or dishwashers, creating the potential for explosions, Carmon said.
Komoroski said that while the safety of the residents is everyone’s ultimate concern, including Cabot’s, the installation of detectors is one of several options the company wants to discuss with DEP. There may be better approaches, he said, given that tests by local fire officials “have never indicated the presence of an explosive mixture inside any home.”
Cabot will comply with another DEP request that it continue to provide alternate water sources for four of the residences, at least temporarily, he said.
Carmon said DEP determined through laboratory analysis that the gas-polluting water wells originated in a geologic formation about 1,500 feet underground, several thousand feet above the Marcellus Shale from which Cabot is extracting natural gas in the region.
“Now that we have figured out where it came from, the rest of the investigation centers on how it is moving geologically and preventing it from occurring,” he said.
Komoroski said Cabot has asked DEP to push back Friday’s deadline to give the company additional time to develop a response to the violations.