Friday, April 6, 2012

EPA finds elevated levels of metals, salts in Dimock wells More study to come but no action required for offline wells

Data from the federal EPA released this afternoon suggests nagging signs of problems with Dimock water possibly related to drilling activities, but nothing that federal officials feel requires “immediate action.”

In 324 pages of lab data released this afternoon, results from 71 samples were highlighted in yellow marker as flags for water with traces of contaminants near or above “action levels.” Action levels do not equal heath threats, according to an EPA policy document. Rather, they “enable EPA to quickly identify the analytical lab data results that warrant further scientific review.” In the case of the Dimock water, some of the samples that showed pollution are not immediate health threats because they have already been taken off line.

The highlighted samples showed elevated levels of sodium, methane, arsenic, chromium, and lithium, all of which are associated with drilling. The results include samples from 20 wells taken in January and February. Results from 30 more homes are still being analyzed. The EPA began the federal investigation in January in the small northern Pennsylvania Town, which has become an iconic of a national controversy over the merits and hazards of an on onshore drilling boom enabled by high volume hydraulic fracturing, a process that allows operators to extract oil and gas from bedrock by injecting it with pressurized chemical solution.

“This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take immediate action,” Roy Senaca said in a short email announcing the results. “EPA remains committed to providing Dimock residents with the best available data and information on the quality of drinking water as expeditiously as possible.”

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  1. Elevated from what? Methane and minerals "associated with drilling," but with nothing else?

    1. Good questions. Here are the answers: Elevated to the point where they have been flagged by the EPA as approaching or exceeding action levels. These elevations are clearly marked on the data sheets. They could be associated with things other than drilling, but the focus of the EPA's investigation, and the reason the agency is there, is because of the hypothesis that drilling is causing a problem with drinking water. To not point that out would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

  2. I wonder if you haven't got your elephants ass-backwards. Given the volume of media attention toward drilling as the assumed culprit behind everything that's in Dimock water, it hardly qualifies.

    The true elephant in the room is the very real possibility that this water has returned to its pre-methane migration background state -- some gassy, some with salts or minerals, but not toxic, and not anything that thousands of rural homeowners in PA and NY haven't long lived with.

    To be fair, it does seem worth reporting, rather than ignoring. Brian Oram would be a good one to talk to on this. He's not Cabot, not PA DEP, not EPA, and not identified with either side in the drilling debate, pro or con, so far as I can tell.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and suggestings. I will add Brian to my list of contacts as I continue to follow.

  3. results also show barium above drinking water standards, arsenic, sodium, lithium and lead - most at low levels but high enough to trigger further review. In addition, low levels of toluene, DEHP (a plasticizer) and other petroleum compounds, things I know I wouldn't want in my water. Keep in mind, too, that this water gets heated for showers and breathing in aerosols can be another avenue for exposure. Seems to me the tests are still happening - which brings one to ask: why the rush to parcel out tid-bits of testing data rather than wait for the completion of the study.

    1. I don't lknow the answer about the piecemeal approach, but I agree it is unusual in my 20 years of environmental reporting. Here are the values for the barium levels that exceed standards in sample HW39. I'm guessing this well is not on line.

      Well no. /analyte/ date/result/ trigger level/ Primary EPA MCL/ DEP MCL

      HW39 Barium 03-Feb-12 3530 ug/L 2900 ug/L 2000 ug/L 2000 ug/L
      HW39-P Barium 03-Feb-12 3810 ug/L 2900 ug/L 2000 ug/L 2000 ug/L
      HW39-F Barium 03-Feb-12 3630 ug/L 2900 ug/L 2000 ug/L 2000 ug/L
      HW39-PF Barium 03-Feb-12 3750 ug/L 2900 ug/L 2000 ug/L 2000 ug/L

  4. If this AP report is reliable (that's a Big If nowadays, in my experience), there was a well with high barium readings, but that referred to samples taken upstream of a treatment device -- which worked as intended to bring it down (must have been a second downstream sample point?).

    Sue, have you had your water similarly tested?

  5. For a well by well review of the data - go to

    It is important to complete a well by well review - but also to look at the overall context of the data and the range in background levels.

    The items we need to take from Dimock
    a. Permitting process should include a plan- just in case something goes wrong.
    b. Baseline testing is needed NOW.
    c. Baseline testing must include methane, bromide, barium, strontium and other parameters since up to 3 % of private wells may already be impacted by saline water.
    d. Baseline testing results need to be reviewed to see if parameters are missing.

    Please support the Citizens Groundwater / Surfacewater Database - A Free Program for PA Well Owners (Not funded by anyone)