Families in a northeastern Pennsylvania village with tainted water wells will have to procure their own water for the first time in nearly three years as a natural-gas driller blamed for polluting the aquifer moves ahead with its plan to stop paying for daily deliveries.
Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. ended delivery of bulk and bottled water to 11 families in Dimock on Wednesday. Cabot asserts Dimock's water is safe to drink and won permission from state environmental regulators last month to stop paying for water for the residents.
A judge on Wednesday declined to issue an emergency order compelling Cabot to continue the deliveries. The judge, who sits on the state's Environmental Hearing Board, set a Dec. 7 deadline for arguments on a second, related petition filed by lawyers for the families.
The decision left residents who don't think their water is safe scrambling to find alternate sources.
"We are in desperate need here," said Scott Ely, 42, who is married with three young children at home.
Ely, a former Cabot employee, said no option was appealing. A creek runs through his property, but the water hasn't been tested and his wife doesn't want it piped into their brand-new home. The Cabot contractor who had been supplying their water quoted him a price of $100 a day, he said.
"We're sitting here with no answers, and I cannot believe Cabot got away with this," he said.
State regulators previously determined that Cabot drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into Dimock's aquifer. The company denied responsibility, but has been banned from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock since April 2010.
A Cabot spokesman said Wednesday that the company has worked diligently to resolve the problems in Dimock.
"Cabot has reconditioned water wells, drilled new water wells and installed treatment systems that work properly and effectively. Additionally, we have tested the water and the results have as proven the water meets federal safe drinking water standards," George Stark said via email.
The families dispute their water supply is safe and say the treatment systems that Cabot has installed in some homes don't do an adequate job of cleaning it.
As residents prepared to be cut off Wednesday, activists launched an effort to keep them supplied with water.
Craig Stevens, who lives near Dimock and is an outspoken critic of the gas industry, put out a call for volunteers with tanker trucks to deliver bulk water to the residents. He said his goal is to get at least 20 volunteers to commit to one day a month each. Working with Stevens, Pennsylvania-American Water Co. said it will set up an access point at Lake Montrose, a municipal water supply several miles from Dimock.
The state, Stevens said, has "turned its back on the people of Dimock."
Several environmental groups, meanwhile, urged the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to reverse its decision to allow Cabot to stop delivering water, saying the company has not met its legal obligation to restore the residents' water supply.
"The department's decision is irresponsible given that Dimock residents have relied on the trucking of temporary fresh water for drinking, bathing and other household uses," Jeff Schmidt, director of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter, wrote to Pennsylvania Environmental Secretary Michael Krancer this week. "The residents' water supplies have not been restored, either in quantity or quality."
Dimock, a rural community about 20 miles south of the New York state line, became a flash point in the national debate over unconventional gas drilling in deep shale formations after 18 residential water wells were found to be tainted with methane. Eleven families have sued Cabot in federal court.