By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A first round of tests showed no evidence that water at 11 homes in a small town in Pennsylvania near natural gas drilling operations had been polluted to unhealthy levels, U.S. environmental regulators said on Thursday.
The Environmental Protection Agency said in January it would perform tests at about 60 homes in Dimock where residents have complained since 2008 of cloudy, foul-smelling water after Cabot Oil & Gas Corp began hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for gas nearby.
Sampling results from the first round of 11 homes "did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern," a regional EPA spokesman said in an email.
Samples from six of the 11 homes did show concentrations of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but those results were all within safe ranges, the spokesman said.
Arsenic was found in the water at two of the 11 homes, but the agency determined those levels were also safe. The agency will retest the water at those two homes.
The EPA has been delivering fresh water to several homes in Dimock including three of the 11 homes. It will continue to provide water to those homes while it performs more sampling.
A Cabot spokesman said the company was pleased with the first round of results and it would continue to work with the EPA.
New drilling techniques such as fracking have revolutionized the U.S. natural gas industry by giving companies access to vast new reserves that could supply the country's demand for 100 years, according to the industry.
Environmentalists and health groups worry that some fracking operations near homes and schools pollute water and air. The industry denies that water supplies have ever been tainted by the technique.
As fracking operations grow in the United States, tensions are also rising between federal and state governments about monitoring potential pollution from drilling.
The EPA is conducting a national study to determine if fracking, in which companies blast large amounts of water laced with chemicals and sand deep underground to free natural gas and bring it to the surface, is polluting water supplies.
The agency said last week it would work with the state of Wyoming to retest water supplies after questions were raised about an EPA draft report showing that harmful chemicals from fracking fluids were likely present in a aquifer near the town of Pavillion.
The next round of results from Dimock could be out late next week, a spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Pullin)