EPA to fracking-polluted village: here's some clean water! 24 hours later: Oh hey, nevermind.

Image: A Dimock, Pennsylvania 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 Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. Dimock is one of hundreds of sites in Pennsylvania where energy companies have raced to tap the massive Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. Residents say the drilling has clouded their drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. Picture taken March 7, 2009.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a commitment to deliver safe water to residents of Dimock, PA, a small village where natural gas drilling operations have poisoned water supplies. Why? So far, federal officials won't explain why.

Only 24 hours after promising them water, EPA officials informed residents of Dimock that a tanker truck wouldn't be coming after all. The about-face left residents furious, confused and let down — and, once again, scrambling for water for bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets.

Federal Agency Cancels Water Delivery to Pa. Town - ABC News.

In ProPublica's extensive reporting series on fracking in America, Dimock has been mentioned often. Christopher Bateman's 2010 Vanity Fair piece on fracking in rural Pennsylvania is another good read, and focuses on Dimock.

Here's an interesting video produced by an environmental group in 2010 that shows an aerial tour of Dimock, noting fracking sites visible at that time.


  1. They’ll sure be glad when the EPA is shut down, right?
    The government should be leaving people alone & let the market figure this out. That’ll end well.

  2. Didn’t the first stories about the dangers of fracking hit the news 2-3 years ago? 

    Why in the hell hasn’t the practice been outlawed yet?

    1. The fix is already in on the federal level.  The local entities can piss & moan and try to regulate it, but the necessary laws have already been bought & paid for, and that’s hell to fight.

    2. Because it isn’t inherently dangerous. The point of fracking is to fracture the rocks in a hydrocarbon reservoir so the oil or gas can flow more easily to the well where it is being extracted.  There is no way the reservoir should be in contact with groundwater or porous water-bearing rock, otherwise all the hydrocarbons would have leaked out already. After all, they have had millions of years to escape if that were the case.

      Usually the oil/gas is way, *way* below groundwater or aquifer level trapped under an impervious layer of rock.

      If you fracture the impervious rock trapping the hydrocarbon deposits, or have a leak from your well into groundwater you’re indisputably Doing It Wrong.

      Which is not to say that when someone is doing it wrong they shouldn’t be held responsible – of course they should. But you shouldn’t flat-out outlaw everything that someone might do ineptly and thereby cause harm.  That would outlaw all the cool stuff like 3d printers and probably C compilers too :)

      1. scav-while the theoretical practice might not be inherently dangerous, the real life application has proven otherwise. there are other factors including the exorbitant amount of fresh water required for each frack (4 million gallons plus) and also the anonymous nature of the chemistry being injected into the earth. estimates for the marcellus shale in delaware county, NY is 10 billion gallons of fresh water over the next 10 years. i wonder how you’d feel (hypothetically) if i leased a parcel next to yours and gave the go ahead to drill horizontally underneath your property? at what point do we draw the line? another dimock?

        1. “the real life application has proven otherwise” — Actually it has not. The EPA has yet to document any confirmed groundwater contamination from fracking operations .

        2. I don’t think the water needs to be fresh water, and the chemicals doesn’t need to be secret (although they probably aren’t particularly terrifying, just protected as a trade secret). In any case, as I’ve said: if those chemicals are getting out of the hydrocarbon reservoir in an uncontrolled way, then so are the hydrocarbons and you’re doing it wrong.

          There are all sorts of reasons why you might not want fracking to be used in a particular place (or by a particular company with a shitty safety record). I still draw the line before making it absolutely illegal in itself and under all circumstances.

          Or rather, since I don’t get any say in it really, all I’m saying is I am not outraged that it is still legal. 

      2. Yes, you’re right, and you can harvest uranium with your bare hands as long as you dodge the stray protons.

        1. Lobster, are you subtly trolling me or what? Protons? I’m going to guess you are, in which case: well played and have a nice day. ^_^

    3. “Why in the hell hasn’t the practice been outlawed yet?”

      Because there is simply no evidence that drilling 3000 ft deep harms ground water wells.

  3. The people I work for have been taking a pretty active role in helping out the people of Dimock.  This is my boss with one of the effected families: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hudsonriverkeeper/6478493715/in/photostream

  4. I wonder if Mr. Santorum can draw any attention to this on behalf of the people of PA… or if he’s on the side of the fracking energy companies.

    Perhaps the solution is to deliver several truckloads of undrinkable water from these towns to the lawns of corporate and EPA headquarters and see if it kills the plants.

    1. Oh FFS don’t mention santorum under a photo of a foul and brownish cloudy liquid. Think of the google image search results! Eeew!

    1. What makes you think fracking caused that? Clearly it’s because God is sending those townpeople a message about something.

      Something something class war.

  5. With all the talk of moratorium so soon after the earthquake, I really don’t think fracking is going to be with us too much longer, and if so only in highly-regulated (as far as that goes) fashion. I don’t think even our government is down with “breaking the Earth.”

    1. I am a “Doctor Ron Paul groupie”.  I’m here and I’m trying to find your point, but can’t for the life of me.  The practice of fracking has to be one of the most dangerous and stupid ideas humans have ever come up with.  There.  Did I disappoint your pre-conceived notions?

      1. In the glorious libertarian future, if you can’t put a price tag on it, then it doesn’t exist. The fracking companies should be allowed to do what they like, after all, since it’d be Big Government intervention to tell them what to do.

        1. You may not realize it, but you’ve both stated the problem as well as completely missed the point about libertarianism.  The fracking companies are able to get away with this because Big Government allows them too.  That is absolutely correct.  And Big Government allows them to because Big Government has been bought off by the companies doing the fracking.  That part is also correct.

          However, under libertarianism, this problem wouldn’t be a problem because of private property rights that so many people are disdainful of.  Because YOUR private property rights are just as important as some companies private property rights.  And if they frack the crap out of YOUR drinking water, you have a very big claim on their ass.  Sadly, it’s the Big Government/Business circle jerk above that disallows your claim.

          Want to know who to blame?  Go back to the laws that were passed to allow this that completely did away with the clean water rules for these companies.  Then look at who voted for them.  Then vote them out of office.

          1. Ah, but you neglect to account for mineral rights, which – once obtained – legally persist unto the ends of time. When a Dimock great grandaddy sold his farm’s mineral rights back in 1890 to the Joe Blow Coal and Coke company (remember, this is hard coal country, so the rights to pretty much all land over any seams were sold long, long ago), he naturally assumed that deep pit coal mining was the only activity that would ever happen, because that was the technology of the time.

            Fast forward 120 years and Junior the IV realizes that those mineral rights (which have been bought and sold many times over by now) to the land that he owns are now posessed by Fracking-R-Us Corp. and there’s absolutely NOTHING he can do to stop the destruction of the land literally under his feet.

            The Corporatist argument is that THEIR private property rights (ie. the mineral rights) are inviolate so they can operate as they choose. And from a legal standpoint, that is essentially the case, since mineral rights never expire.

            So whose property rights are more “right”?

          2. If you think that the private property rights of some peasant are as important as the private property rights of a multi-billion entity, you may want to look at history before you implement a society on such a splendid scheme.

            “True liberalism” will work about as good as communism. 

          3. If you think that the private property rights of some peasant are as important as the private property rights of a multi-billion entity, you may want to look at history before you implement a society on such a splendid scheme.

            Well, the “peasant” needs a place to live and needs clean water to drink and healthful food to eat whereas the “multi-billion entity” needs none of those things and is in fact a legal fiction.  So I completely disagree, the property rights of the “peasant” are much more important.

          4. you may want to look at history before you implement a society on such a splendid scheme.

            Exactly, this glorious disaster has already existed, and it took years and years of struggle and death to wrest some control from private business.  Of course, now we’ve been slowly heading back toward that small government nightmare for decades.

            Yes, things were wonderful when “Big Government” didn’t get in the way of business.  Remember the awesome pollution free,  awesome labor conditions of the Gilded Age? Robber barons, murderous private police , goon squads, child labor…..

            Ironically, if you want to see how business works almost completely unfettered, you only have to go to the manufacturing district in China.

            Libertarianism, much like a communism requires a convenient dismissal of human history, human nature, and the very function of capitalism. When it all goes wrong we can just say that ‘the conditions weren’t right’..

          5. And what’s to stop the fracking companies from buying the land NEXT to mine?

            I drink your milkshake.  I DRINK IT UP!

    2. Without the EPA, the homeowner would be free to sue the pants off the company causing them harm. As it is now, the EPA is protecting the company by approving their operations.

  6. Clean water to flush their toilets?
    I think one of the things that our great grand children will be baffled about when looking back at this era is how we see fit to use good, potable water to shit and piss in then flush away.

      1. The water being flushed with doesn’t need to be safe to drink – it just needs to be clean enough not to be a major health hazard by just sitting in the bowl.

    1. I don’t disagree with your generalization, but given the cost and complexity there really isn’t any point to it other than knowing you aren’t wasting clean water. 

      Now if the house was built using a dual supply from the start, perhaps using rainwater for sewage, then that’s great.  In the end all the water ends up either back in the ground or at the sewage plant to be recycled…

      1. Duel systems are being installed/have been installed in SoCal.  Let’s just pretend that’s where Craig lives. 
        I live in MI with bajillions of gallons of fresh water and I agree in principle that toilets should use grey water.

        1. I guess the only problem with that is if someone uses a toilet cleaner that reacts with some other detergent already in the water.  Not insurmountable, as far as technical considerations go.

          1. Technically, grey water is supposed to be water that’s clean enough to release to surface waters, but not clean enough to be potable.  There shouldn’t be any green cloud threats when you go to scrub the pot.

    2. Taking a little piss and shit out of water isn’t that hard.  And looking out of the window I’ll note that there are many, many regions on Earth were fresh water isn’t a scarce resource and where it makes zero sense to have two distributing systems.

      If you chose to have huge cities and golf parcrous in the middle of a desert, now that’s probably a different matter. 

        1. In these here parts are sewage treatment plant that   sell the energy they create – the surplus, that is.  

          1. I dont think Nathan was talking about the surplus energy when he said waste. He clearly meant the energy used by the sewage treatment process.

    3. I do occasionally get some cognitive dissonance when I think about the fact that the water that comes out of my shower and fills my toilet tank is the same water that is bottled and sold as Nord Water “premium drinking water” in the Middle East. The fact that we bottle and sell our tap water kind of indicates that Finland has more clean water than it knows what to do with, though, so there’s not much point to having separate “drinking water” and “non-potable water” systems here.

      1. The fact that people sell tap water has nothing to do with having a dangerous surplus of tap water.  They sell it because other people buy it.

    4. Your toilet spends 99% of its life doing absolutely nothing.  Do you really want a pool of standing toxic water in your home?

  7. OK, I am going to initially be research lazy and hope a BB genius out there knows the answer to this.  Is there any way that I can guarantee that the gas I use does not come from a fu/racked source?  I live in NYC.

    1. Possibly.  ConEd has several programs in place to allow you to select who your electrical and gas suppliers are, making ConEd simply your delivery vehicle.  I mean, technically it’s not like ConEd runs a line from that supplier to your place, they just purchase your amount from that supplier and it gets mixed into the citywide system.  But you’re at least choosing to help instead of turning a blind eye and destroying the environments of our upstate neighbors.  So thanks for that.

      However, if you live in an apartment building with heat from the Owner, you have no control over that and they probably don’t care.
      FYI:  http://www.coned.com/customercentral/energyrespower.asp

  8. These people should just work out how to extract the gas from their flammable wells, and then use it to generate power as well as distill their water.

    They’ll have free power and water, and if the companies should be upset about them using *their* gas, then if they should try and sue the townsfolk, then they would have to admit that their fracking contaminated the water table.

  9. The fracking problem here in Alberta is overshadowed by the gaping commercial wound that is most of the North East of this still beautiful area, sigh.

  10. What is the problem here?  That looks like pink lemonade to me.

    Delicious pink lemonade straight from the tap; just think of it!

    Oh…it’s not actually pink lemonade you say?  It’s really just this foul, murky swill pumped from the ground instead of clean water?

    Well…those people should have known better than to live in a place where natural gas could be blasted from the depths to keep our economy chug-chugging along.

    They should instead be smart like me and live in a coastal area where all the fossil fuels are offshore; and if some smart aleck multinational tries to impede my oceanic vistas with oil platforms, well then I’ll protest dadgummit!

    I will of course…drive to the protest.

  11. Fracking is something that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around. Not that I don’t understand how it works, but that I can’t believe it’s actually a real thing that we do. It’s just so over-the-top, comic book crazy that it couldn’t possibly happen in the real world, could it? Could we really be that stupid?

    1. I’ve heard if you detonate an atomic bomb at the right height above sand it’ll turn it to glass.  Looks like an excellent high volume business to me!

    2. Are we really that stupid?

      Yes.  I present as evidence: ICBMs armed with 1.2 megaton nuclear warheads.

  12. Pennsylvania state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer is on the gas company’s side and is preventing the EPA from acting.

  13. As governor, Corbett maintains that Pennsylvania should not tax the natural gas industry.[16][17] In February 2011, Corbett repealed a four month old policy regulating natural gas drilling in park land, deeming it “unnecessary and redundant” according to a spokesperson. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party called the repeal a “payoff” to oil and gas interests which donated a million dollars to Corbett’s campaign.[18] According to Corbett, “had they not given me a dime, I would still be in this position, saying we need to grow jobs in Pennsylvania.”

    1. charmingly, most of the jobs are for out-of-staters, who while they do spend money on food and lodging and transportation, still spend and send the bulk of it out-of-state.

  14. Oh, is this the same EPA that Cheney bought off and exempted fracking companies from the clean water act? How suprising.  Someone above mentioned finding out who voted for the laws and vote them out of office.  Yeah, that doesn’t work. Politicans lie, and cheat and by the time they are out, it’s too late- they are rich, and we have drinking water thats flammable.

    I thought Battlestar Galactica taught us that Fracking was a bad word. Maybe they should have used the word Money instead.

  15. Brian Dunning’s podcast Skeptiod #275 All About Fracking is very good.

    “At this time, the EPA is in the midst of a major investigation into the safety of groundwater supplies that may be affected by fracking. Unfortunately it moves at government speeds; the investigation is due to last through 2012 with a report due in 2014. In the meantime, the good news is that the EPA has yet to document any confirmed groundwater contamination from fracking operations. Even the Duke University study found no evidence at all of any fracking fluid in any of the wells they sampled. However, there have been a number of cases of contamination from accidental surface spills, similar to what we see from virtually every industry that transports and pumps liquids.”

    The videos showing people lighting their tap water on fire are deliberately misleading as there have long been areas in the US where well water is naturally contaminated by underlying deposits. People in that area were able to light their well water on fire long before fracking. That’s why the oil companies are interested in their land in the first place.

  16. And all this while, we have a gigantic coal mine, already built but going completely unused in Centralia, Pennsylvania. 

    Who cares that it’s on fire?  Advertise it as a feature!  Saves the customer a step.

Comments are closed.