Marcellus Shale

Anti-Gas Activists Move the Hoops Again to Save Dimock Myth

Nicole Jacobs
John Krohn

EID Marcellus Team Members 

As the favored story of the anti-natural gas elite slowly moves into the realm of fable, we are now able to answer an important question. What will the litigants and their supporters do when they can no longer shout “Dimock, Dimock” from the rooftops as their excuse for wanting to stop natural gas development?

The answer came pretty quickly.  Originally brought to us by ProPublica, then bought hook, line and sinker by the LA Times.  It seems the litigants, and their allies, are attempting to reinvent the story again. Or, to use a basketball metaphor in honor of March Madness, they’re moving the hoops to make sure they never miss a shot. This time claiming that drinking water standards set by the U.S. government, through multiple acts of Congress, don’t protect public health.

Well, What About Dimock?

Over the past four years, Dimock has become the battle cry of those determined to halt natural gas development, not only in the Marcellus Shale, but across the world. A once sleepy, rural town few people knew existed is now inaccurately portrayed by media outlets across the world. Dimock gets more hits on the internet than nearly any other natural gas term and is the security blanket for New York anti-natural gas activists.

The EPA has released the first set of data on 11 of the 60 wells they recently tested in Dimock. Their initial comments indicate there are no contaminants above safe drinking water levels and that as a result Dimock’s water is safe. This the second time the agency has made such a declaration, the first announcement was made last December.

How the Story Is Being Reinvented

One need go no further than the recent Pro Publica story to see how the facts are being re-written to ensure the ball goes through the hoop.  Here are a just a few observations:

The ProPublica article states:

“But what the agency didn’t say – at least, not publicly – is that the water samples contained dangerous quantities of methane gas, a finding that confirmed some of the agency’s initial concerns and the complaints raised by Dimock residents since 2009.”

Of course, there is no attempt to reconcile this with existing conditions prior to natural gas development.  The area has had methane issues as long as its been inhabited.  Creeks have caught fire since the 18th century and a recent study found methane present in 78 % of 1,700 wells sampled.

The story continues:

“The test results also showed the group of wells contained dozens of other contaminants, including low levels of chemicals known to cause cancer and heavy metals that exceed the agency’s ‘trigger level’ and could lead to illness if consumed over an extended period of time. The EPA’s assurances suggest that the substances detected do not violate specific drinking water standards, but no such standards exist for some of the contaminants and some experts said the agency should have acknowledged that they were detected at all.”

It’s interesting that Safe Drinking Water Act primary standards, which have been relied upon for nearly forty years, are now no longer a valid determinant of whether water is safe to drink.

Next, the article attempts to paint a very frightening picture and then associate that picture to natural gas development void of any facts. The article states:

 “Among the other substances detected at low levels in Dimock’s water are a suite of chemicals known to come from some sort of hydrocarbon substance, such as diesel fuel or roofing tar. They include anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene and benzo(a)pyrene– all substances described by a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as cancer-causing even in very small amounts. Chromium, aluminum, lead and other metals were also detected, as were chlorides, salts, bromide and strontium, minerals that can occur naturally but are often associated with natural gas drilling.”

This brings us to a larger narrative.  This is the thought that if water is contaminated if it holds any elements other than hydrogen and oxygen. This point has been advanced by the litigants in Dimock, and their allies, at every turn.

Breaking News: Nobody’s Drinking Water is 100% Pure

Yes, nearly every glass of water you have ever put to your lips was “contaminated”.  It likely contained fecal coliform, caffeine, pharmaceuticals or any other host of pollutants.  Even the water you run through a Brita filter. For a good understanding of this we turn to work done by our friends at Environmental Working Group (EWG).

In 2008  EWG conducted an extensive investigation of multiple bottled water companies- a source of water revered as being the cleanest of all.  What did they find? From the report:

A surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed, including toxic byproducts of chlorination in Walmart’s Sam’s Choice and Giant Supermarket’s Acadia brands, at levels no different than routinely found in tap water. Several Sam’s Choice samples purchased in California exceeded legal limits for bottled water contaminants in that state. Cancer-causing contaminants in bottled water purchased in 5 states (North Carolina, California,Virginia, Delaware and Maryland) and the District of Columbia substantially exceeded the voluntary standards established by the bottled water industry.

Last time we checked there was no oil and gas development in the nation’s capital, but we digress. It doesn’t end there, the report continues:

Altogether, the analyses conducted by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory of these 10 brands of bottled water revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.

By the litigants of the litigants, ProPublica and the LA Times every one of these bottled water brands must be located next to hydraulic fracturing operations.  Unless, of course, these groups are wrong in their unsupported assumptions, and characterizations, that serve to bash a town in pursuit of their goal of railroading natural gas development.

With all this in mind, it’s not difficult to see what the Pro Publica article was about — reinforcing the narrative that any amount contaminants are dangerous and derive from natural gas development.

The good news for all of us who care about the truth, the reputation of Dimock and economic development in our communities, though, is this — it just isn’t working for them. The folks in the stands have a full panoramic view of what’s happening on the court and they’re leaving early.

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