Marcellus Shale

Natural Gas Proves to be Safe: No Water Contamination in Dimock

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has officially stated, yet again, Dimock’s water is safe to drink with no abnormal traces of any elements, metals or other contaminants. The testing they began in January of this year has been completed, as well as a few follow up tests after initial samplings.  All come to the same result – the water meets safe drinking water standards.  A handful of families in Dimock still refuse to believe the quantitative data so we decided to take a closer look at what’s been collected.The EPA has composed a 725 page spreadsheet containing all the water testing data from Dimock.   All the data in the spreadsheet is quantitative data resulting from well specific tests.  The tests began January 25, 2012 and tested five weeks total ending the testing March 6, 2012.

Our readers will recall the billboard pictured below, which ended up on the Sautners’ roof after it was forced down by the pro-natural gas landowner whose property hosted the billboard for a brief time.  The list of supposed contaminants appears behind a pitcher of dirty water.  It was erected by activists from New York who are opposed to natural gas development and hoped a simple listing of elements with no accompanying data on levels, combined with a “dirty picture” (or “dirty pitcher”), would demonstrate Dimock’s water was contaminated from natural gas development.  Now, let’s look at the actual elements and compare them to the data the EPA has compiled.

Dimock Billboard

That Infamous Dimock Billboard!

Before digging in, however, there are a few things every reader should know.  The table is set to show the tested levels, the trigger levels, and the maximum contaminant level (MCL) set by the EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Also, everything is measured in micrograms per liter or “ug/L” levels.  Finally, if there is a “U” next to a number it means that element (“analyte” in EPA speak) wasn’t detected.  For example, if the data reads “1 U ug/L” it means the laboratory couldn’t even detect one microgram of whatever analyte was being tested.  The number in from of the U is the lowest the test will read and the “U” means it was undetected.  Here are some other key terms:

Trigger Level – established for this project, the trigger levels are based on risk-based screening levels and/or standards for public water supplies.  A yellow highlighted result represents an analytical result greater than the established trigger level.  Results exceeding a trigger level are referred to an EPA toxicologist for further review.

EPA Primary MCLs – the primary maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are legally enforceable standards established under the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in public drinking water systems.  The MCL is the amount of an analyte (substance) that can be present in a water sample that the government considers acceptable to drink.  EPA considers the MCLs when evaluating results from residential drinking water wells.

DEP MCLs (Primary and Secondary) – Chapter 109, Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Regulations, defines MCL as the maximum permissible level of a contaminant in water which is delivered to a user of a public water system, and includes the primary and secondary MCLs established under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and MCLs adopted under the act.

Now, about those findings with respect to some of those items prominently displayed on that billboard:


The first thing I looked at was something we always hear people discussing, strontium.  The EPA and DEP don’t have MCL levels for this analyte, so a trigger number was used to compare and evaluate results.  The trigger number for strontium in public water is 9,300 micrograms/Liter.

Strontium Standard vs. Finding

Throughout all the testing, the strontium levels varied from undetected (tests detect anything over 200 micrograms/Liter) to 2,980 micrograms/Liter.  Even at the utmost high levels detected the results were 6,320 micrograms/Liter under the trigger number.  So much for that particular billboard item.

Strontium uses:

Strontium is used in producing glass for color television picture tubes. It is also used to produce ferrite magnets and to refine zinc. (Note: more background may be found here.)

Strontium is also used for making red colored fireworks, which are legal in Pennsylvania.  Medically, it could help people with osteoporosis.  Nicole pointed this out in this earlier post.


Next, I looked at beryllium.  The EPA and DEP have both established a MCL of 4 micrograms per liter.  The trigger level for testing on this project, however, was set at 16 micrograms per liter.  Regardless, when the wells were tested, the results showed beryllium was undetected (1U) in all the tests conducted throughout the entire study, indicating there was less than 1 microgram/Liter of this contaminant, if any at all.

Beryllium Standard vs. Finding

Even assuming 1 microgram/Liter of this contaminant, this is still at least 15 micrograms/Liter under the trigger level and at least 3 micrograms/Liter under the MCL.  Another billboard listing falls to the ground.

Beryllium uses:

Beryllium mirrors can be used in telescopes. (Note: more background may be found here.)


Uranium was the third analyte I researched from the billboard.  Both the EPA and DEP set a MCL for uranium at 30 micrograms/Liter, with a trigger number for this sampling project of 47 micrograms/Liter.

Uranium Standard vs. Finding

Throughout all the testing, the range of uranium observed was undetected (under 1 microgram/Liter, 1U) to 8.4 micrograms/Liter. This means the highest level was 21.6 micrograms/Liter less than the MCL levels and 38.6 micrograms/Liter less than the trigger number.  One more billboard contaminant down the drain.

Uranium uses:

Almost all the uranium mined today is used to produce electricity, as it has been for more than 40 years. Apart from providing about 16% of the world’s electricity, some other interesting uses of uranium include weighting of the keels of ocean-going yachts, and balancing the control surfaces in modern jet aircraft. (Note: more background may be found here)


Barium was also tested for in water wells.  The MCL set by EPA and DEP is 2,000 micrograms/Liter.  The trigger value is 2,900 micrograms/Liter.  There were a mere six test results that exhibited somewhat high barium levels.  If these were caused by hydraulic fracturing, we would see many more water wells with abnormally high levels.

The key here is that, while there are wells that are somewhat high, there are many more wells with very low levels.  The lowest level observed was 18.4 micrograms/Liter.  If high levels of barium were not occurring naturally and were, in fact, caused by natural gas exploration, the majority of the levels would be high (causation/correlation).

Also, note four of the six tests resulting in high barium levels are associated with one well (HW39) with all samples being taken the same day, February 3.  The other two also reflected samples from the same well (HW16) on the same day.  Consequently, the results indicate aberrations and/or fluctations connected with natural conditions, not contamination problems.


The EPA and the DEP have set a secondary MCL standard for aluminum of 200 micrograms/Liter.  A secondary MCL is related to aesthetic considerations rather than health or safety.  Therefore, the project trigger for aluminum was set much higher at 16,000 micrograms/Liter.

The majority of the tests showed aluminum was undetected, with less than 30 micrograms/Liter.  One location, HW 22, on February 9, showed 5,220 and 2,680 micrograms/Liter which were the highest numbers observed, but still far under the 16,000 micrograms/Liter trigger. There were only three test results higher than the MCL standard.


The EPA has stated the following regarding lead:

EPA has not established an MCL for lead or copper. Lead and copper are regulated by a Treatment Technique that requires public drinking water systems to control the corrosiveness of their water.  If more than 10% of tap water samples exceed the action level, water system must take additional steps.  For lead, the action level is 15 ug/L, and for copper is 1,300 ug/L.  The DEP Primary MCLs for lead (5 ug/L) and copper (1,000 ug/L) are applicable only to bottled, vended, retail and bulk water hauling systems; otherwise the DEP uses the federal action levels for lead (15 ug/L), and for copper (1,300 ug/L).

There were two tests which came back showing somewhat high levels of lead.  One of the two was the same location where the aluminum levels were high.  The range (not counting the two places with high levels of lead) varied from 1U (undetectable) to 3.5 micrograms/Liter.

It stands to reason, if the cause of high levels of anything on the billboard were from natural gas development, they would be high everywhere natural gas development has occurred and this simply isn’t the case.  Dimock’s water is fine and not only under trigger values for the vast majority of the tests, but also under the MCL levels set by EPA and DEP.

Trace readings can come from many different sources, or can be naturally occurring, as is the case throughout the region with barium, for instance.  The Dimock results, viewed in their totality, do not indicate contamination from natural gas development and support the EPA’s determination the water is safe to drink just as Loren Salsman said not too long ago.  The billboard, in other words, was a case of false advertising.



Post A Comment