By Edward McAllister
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Residents of Dimock, a small village in northern Pennsylvania, are set for a legal battle to restore their water supply after an oil and gas company blamed for polluting wells stopped trucking in fresh water last week.
Cabot Oil and Gas had been supplying water to a dozen households in Dimock for three years after state authorities found that the company had contaminated water wells in the area while drilling for natural gas.
Residents have struggled to get enough fresh water for everyday activities after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said Cabot had fulfilled its obligations and could halt water supply on Nov 30.
"This is illegal," said Kate Sinding, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council which is representing Dimock residents. "Pennsylvania law requires that when an entity has contaminated a water supply it must restore or replace that water supply."
This saga, in the heart of drilling country, has gained attention far beyond the Dimock village boundaries, as the debate about the safety of drilling for natural gas intensifies across the country.
Critics blame fracking, the process of blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water and sand into rocks deep underground to release an abundance of trapped gas, for polluting water wells in Pennsylvania. Industry denies the link.
Environmentalists, elected officials and celebrities have sponsored trucks to deliver water to Dimock from as far as New York City 150 miles away.
Dimock is not new to disruptions caused by energy drilling. Last year Cabot agreed to pay Dimock residents $4.1 million in compensation for contamination of their water well. Still, some residents were shocked to be without water.
"We couldn't imagine that they would stop water supply to the households," said Dimock resident Victoria Switzer who hasn't drunk water from her tap for three years.
Others were running low. "I don't know what we are going to do yet. We've got a couple of boxes left but that's it," said Scott Ely who also lives in Dimock.
The NRDC, which demands that Cabot resume deliveries, reckons that buying water could cost about $100 a day for each household.
Cabot was not available for comment on Tuesday.
While many Dimock residents refuse to drink their tap water after drilling reportedly led to higher methane levels, the Federal EPA said in a letter last week that tap water in the township does not pose a threat to residents' health.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by David Gregorio)