Monday, June 3, 2013

Cabot Fuels Dimock PA War With Another Study

Cabot Oil & Gas is out with another study designed to convince that its mistakes in gas drilling had nothing to do with high levels of methane in 18 water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania.  Indeed, methane levels became so dangerous at some properties that one water well exploded.  Here is a link to the Cabot study:

This particular Cabot study finds that large numbers of water wells in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania have methane gas in them, a finding that is not news and why the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spent large amounts of resources to determine whether gas in water wells was "natural" or a result of gas drilling.  The study's implication is that Cabot's gas drilling did not cause methane to reach anyone's water well in Susquehanna County, though the study does not explicitly say that.

Look no further than Cabot's continuing Moby-Dick-like obsession to shift responsibility for mistakes it made in Dimock to understand why so many people lose confidence about the industry's commitment to operational excellence.

To recap, following an explosion of a water well in Dimock, Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did an extensive investigation of 60 water wells in the Dimock area, starting in 2009.  The investigation used repeated water testing and comprehensive isotopic testing of methane in water wells to determine what water wells, if any, had been contaminated by gas drilling and whether or not methane found was "natural."  That testing found that 18 of 60 water wells had gas that was not "natural" or pre-existing, but was a result of gas drilling errors in the area.

The investigation also found that several Cabot gas wells showed clear signs of poor cementing, design, or other failures.  Indeed, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection strengthened the statewide gas well design, casing, and cementing regulations, in part due to its findings in Dimock.

Pennsylvania law also required that water well impacts within 1,000 feet of gas drilling (now 2,500 feet) are to be presumed to be caused by gas drilling, if no testing of the water well was done by the gas company prior to gas drilling.  Cabot did no testing of the 18 water wells DEP found Cabot had contaminated with methane, before it drilled near them.

DEP ordered Cabot to plug and repair gas wells in the area to stop the methane migration, and repeated testing of the 18 water wells showed methane had been reduced to safe levels in 14 of them by December 2010.

The DEP investigation and repeated testing and subsequently still more testing by the Environmental Protection Agency also found that hydraulic fracturing itself had not contaminated the water wells. No chemicals or drilling wastewater had returned from depth to contaminate the water wells.  The methane contamination in the 18 water wells was a result of casing and cementing errors in the gas drilling phase of Cabot's operations in the area.

Those are the real facts in Dimock, and the continuing efforts to obfuscate them only adds to public suspicion.


  1. Fracking is the process of extracting oils from earth . The fracking should be stopped as the process is contaminating the ground water .

    Hydraulic Installation Kits

    Bruce Hammerson

  2. John, there was testing by Cabot of water wells prior to the drilling 2008 and 2009. I have seen the tests. And they say that "no hydrocarbons" were found and about a dozen other elements were tested for. If you or anyone wants to see a copy, let me know; email me at
    Cabot was found responsible for the methane contamination and other elements, and this can be found in the DEP Consent Orders and had to repair several gas wells and close in several. DEP has loads of Determination letters that show that "gas drilling has impacted" private water sources and I have copies of dozens of those, also.

  3. I wanted to share with you a presentation I recently did called “An Industrial Park in My Backyard: Similarities Between Coal Mining and Fracking”, at the Plymouth Historical Society, in Plymouth, PA. This was once a booming coal mining town. Now we are awaiting an influx of natural gas infrastructure and industrialization, while still paying for the damage done by the coal mining a half century ago.

    I cover Cabot's outrageous claim that they are committed to 100% water recycling. If it weren't for that pesky 20-80% of the 5 million gallons per well that stays in the ground, they might be close!

  4. Concerned ScientistJune 5, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    Cabot appears to have made some mistakes in Dimock, but that does not meant that this report is just propaganda. You seem to be dismissing it as such. The paper has some pretty good information for those working to minimize the impact of methane and better understand the problem:

    78% of wells have detectable methane prior to gas drilling

    3.4% of water wells have methane above action limit, many of which would catch on fire if lit

    Methane concentrations are higher in valleys than on hills

    I think some companies were surprised by the ubiquity of naturally occurring methane in and just below aquifers in the area when drilling started. Cabot certainly seems to have been one of them. No company wants to have methane migration problems including Cabot.

    1. You are right that no company wants methane migration. But all the companies do not have the same commitment to avoiding it or making it right when it has and does occur. And mistakes have been made. In PA not all companies with drilling permits are A students. Some are B, C, D, and F students. Also just look at how the bulk of the industry reacted to the opening of the Center For Sustainable Shale Development. The opposition to it within the industry is strong and so far just 4 companies have committed to seek its certification. I hope more do seek its certification and will watch to see. Too many companies within the industry still do not "get it," and those are fueling the loss of public support in PA.

    2. Concerned ScientistJune 5, 2013 at 11:10 AM

      This is true:

      But all the companies do not have the same commitment to avoiding it or making it right when it has and does occur.

      Strong regulation and penalties are required.

      But you still dismissed what was actually a very good and useful study for those who want to understand and improve the situation.

      Shale gas will never be sustainable. The center may be a very good idea, but no fossil fuel is sustainable. That is unless we produce it at exactly the same rate that it forms. We are currently producing oil and gas at a rate about 1,000,000 times faster than it forms. The Center for Environmental Excellence in Shale Gas Development would be a more appropriate sort of name.

    3. I said the findings in the Cabot study were "not news." DEP knew in 2009 that significant concentrations of gas in water wells were common in the area and so used isotopic testing and other techniques in its investigation to distinguish what was the source of gas in water wells. We also saw in our test results differences in concentrations in Valley areas. And a main purpose of this study is to create the impression that I stated in the original post. The industry would do much better if it just would say that methane migration is a real problem. No ifs and buts.

  5. Concerned ScientistJune 5, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    But there are important "buts" John. Most methane in people's water is naturally occurring. Period. That is a major but. There are tens of thousands of people with methane in their wells that is naturally occurring that has nothing to do with gas drilling. There have been about 100 cases of increased methane concentrations due to drilling from what I understand. So it is essential that people understand that the vast majority of cases are naturally occurring.

    Apparently the work of the DEP is not widely understood or publicized because the people from Duke certainly had no knowledge of it when they wrote their atrocious paper on methane contamination. or they chose to ignore it because it was not peer-reviewed. You must admit that as far as peer reviewed research goes, this paper is far more accurate than the Duke (Osborn et al) paper.

    I do agree that industry should be up front about how methane migration might occur during drilling and to admit when this has occurred. I think their lawyers tell them never to admit to anything which is a shame. This might say more about our litigious society than anything else.

    I realize you have a campaign to run - good luck tonight in your debate. I hope that you stay balanced on the shale gas issue. I have always respected your voice on the issue.

    1. Thanks for the good luck wish. I need some luck. My position on what happened at Dimock is factual and the facts are balanced. To repeat points in the original post, gas drilling caused methane to pollute 18 of 60 water wells examined in Dimock or it did not cause harm at 42 of 60. It annoys Cabot and many in the industry who deny anything happened. It also does not please those wishing to end hydraulic fracturing because the facts at Dimock show frack fluids did not return from depth to anyone's water wells. Like them or not, those are the facts. My post said that and I will keep saying it.

    2. John,

      The industry did point out that there was methane migration incident in Dimock in its own Gasland rebuttal "TruthLand". The one that you were in....

      The industry isn't denying methane migration happens. We do wish folks to have the proper context in which to understand the frequency and the scope of the impact of it. For example in Dimock (though you obviously know this), the wells were repaired or plugged and the methane levels fell to background levels and any remaining methane is separated by a filtration system, and the landowners received a very reasonable cash settlement for their troubles. Now, life on Carter Road is back to normal (at least as far as the water is concerned).

      What the industry is fighting back on is the assertions by anti-drilling activists that methane migration is rampant, permanent, and debilitating. I know you're on the campaign trail, but you're painting with an awfully broad brush.


    3. Mike:

      I appreciate Concerned Scientist and you saying that methane migration took place in Dimock. But Cabot, API, and other industry spokesman constantly say nothing happened there. That's false. The movie Truthland, to its credit, did include an interview with one of the 18 families in Dimock that had their water polluted by methane. And he was one of the 14 that had methane removed, a fact that was in the original post. The original post was careful to restate the Dimock facts accurately.

  6. Life on Carter Road/Dimock is back to normal?

  7. John,

    How does DEP determine poor cementing in a new well ?? What are examples of "poor design" of a well ??
    Can you post the new changes in design and cementing of shale gas wells that DEP has passed ??