Private lab finds toxic chemicals in Dimock water

Private lab finds toxic chemicals in Dimock water by Laura Legere, September 16, 2010, The Times-Tribune
Water testing by a private environmental engineering firm has found widespread contamination of drinking water with toxic chemicals in an area of Dimock Twp. already affected by methane contamination from natural gas drilling. Reports of the positive test results first came Monday when Dimock resident Victoria Switzer testified at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, N.Y., that the firm Farnham and Associates Inc. had confirmed ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and toluene were present in her water. The firm’s president, Daniel Farnham, said this week that the incidence of contamination is not isolated. Instead, he has found hydrocarbon solvents – including ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene – in the well water of “almost everybody” on and around Carter Road in Dimock where methane traced to deep rock formations has also been found. The chemicals he found in the water in Dimock generally have industrial uses, including in antifreeze, gasoline and paint – except propylene glycol, which is also used in food products. All of the constituents are also frequently used as chemical additives mixed with high volumes of water and sand to fracture gas-bearing rock formations – a crucial but controversial part of natural gas exploration commonly called “fracking.” Mr. Farnham’s findings could cast doubt on the safety of the practice, which state regulators and the gas industry say has never been definitively linked to water contamination during the 60 years it has been used.

The Department of Environmental Protection determined that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. allowed methane from a deep rock formation to seep into 14 residential drinking water supplies through faulty or overpressured casing in its Marcellus Shale gas wells. … In April of this year, Mrs. Switzer and two of her neighbors who live at the bottom of a valley along Burdick Creek noticed that their water ran soapy. “It would foam up and leave like a beer foam on the top,” she said. … In August, Mr. Farnham shared the results with Cabot during a meeting concerning a lawsuit many of the affected families have filed against the company.

“To date, DEP’s lab analyses do not support his findings,” he said. Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. said pre-drill testing performed by Mr. Farnham when he was contracted by land agents of the company in May 2008 showed the hydrocarbon solvents and glycols preexisted in some wells. “The things he is saying now exist he showed us existed in ’08,” Cabot spokesman George Stark said. “That’s why you do the pre-drill (test).” Mr. Farnham said Wednesday he never tested for the constituents in 2008, let alone detected them. “If that had been the case, I would have said this is a moot point,” he said. “We didn’t test for that stuff. I don’t know how else to say it.”

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