Pennsylvania lifts ban on gas production in polluted village of Dimmock, Pennsylvania

Dimmock, Pennsylvania, (AP) — According to a state settlement, one of Pennsylvania’s largest excavators has been removed from under a rural area where it has been banned for 12 years due to accusations of polluting water supplies. Allowed to extract gas. Regulatory authority.

The Department of Environmental Protection has quietly lifted a long-term moratorium on gas production in Dimmock, a small village in northeastern Pennsylvania. The village became nationally famous after its residents were filmed setting their tap water on fire.

A government agency agreement with Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc. is dated Nov. 29 — the same day Coterra accused the company of allowing methane to leak out of control into Dimock’s aquifer. He did not contest the high-profile criminal case. State officials denied that Cotera had been allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in exchange for being allowed to drill potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gas.

This publicly available agreement was obtained by The Associated Press.

Some residents, who have long accused the Department of Environmental Protection of failing to deal with water pollution in Dimok, said they felt betrayed.

Ray Kemble said he was the most outspoken of a small group of Dimmock residents who have battled drilling companies and state regulators alike.

Coterra will be permitted to drill horizontally beneath Dimock’s 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) area and fracture the gas-bearing shale thousands of feet below. This has been banned since 2010 when environmental regulators accused Cotera’s predecessor company of failing to keep its promises to restore or replace Dimoc’s water.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said it will begin negotiations with Cotera in early 2022. This was shortly after the company was formed by merging Cabot Oil and Gas, the driller believed responsible for fouling Dimmock’s water supply, and Simarex Energy.

“When Cotera took over responsibility for the wells after the Cabot merger, they actively engaged with DEP to address remaining issues in the region,” said Jamar Thrasher, a spokesperson for the agency. I was. “Coterra is committed to rigorous controls, oversight and evaluation, resulting in the most restricted state of drilling within the Commonwealth.”

Coterra’s predecessor, Cabot, was indicted in June 2020 with 15 criminal charges, alleging it drilled a faulty gas well and leaked combustible methane into residential water supplies in Dimock and surrounding areas. it was done.

Coterra did not contest the misdemeanor violation of the state’s Clean Streams Act. In a plea bargain with the state attorney general’s office, Cotella said he would have to pay more than $16 million to finance the construction of Dimmock’s new public water system and pay for her 75 years of water bills for affected residents. there is.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who will take office next month, held a congratulatory press conference with Kemble and two other Dimmock residents on the day Kotella filed his petition. Shapiro punted on reporters’ questions about whether Cotera would be allowed to resume drilling in the moratorium area, noting that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe’s administration is still in charge.

“This is clearly a regulatory issue, not an Attorney General’s Office issue,” Shapiro said at the time.

A Shapiro spokeswoman said the plea deal was not contingent on the DEP lifting the moratorium.

“Our office is not involved in the DEP’s regulatory decisions and does not share confidential information regarding criminal investigations,” said Jacklin Rhoads.

In an interview on Friday, Wolfe said he was happy with his administration’s decision to allow Kotera to return to Dimmock.

Coterra remains prohibited from drilling new gas wells within the moratorium area itself. But shale gas drillers like Coterra can drill horizontally for miles to reach their target. That means the company will have to start new wells outside the prohibited zone, but the gas is within easy reach.

Zachariah Hildenbrand, a Dallas-based biochemist who conducted the test at Dimmock, said technically speaking, the horizontal part of the gas well is “orders of magnitude safer” than the vertical part. . .

However, it is hard to believe that Kotera would want to take a risk with Dimmock, and that regulators would allow it.

“Why roll the dice, is this happening again? You’re already wreaking havoc on the region. It’s already blinding the industry,” Hildenbrand said. “Would you like to pick up your tools and go somewhere?”

Drillers have long said the gas in the Dimmock well was naturally occurring, and over the years have regularly requested permission from the state to resume drilling in the community.

Coterra spokesman George Stark said in a statement that the agreement with the DEP “solves long-standing problems and provides for the responsible and safe development of natural resources within the nine-square-mile area. It also fulfills the wishes of many landowners who have communicated their support for such development.”

Pennsylvania is the second-largest gas producing state in the nation after Texas, and Susquehanna County, where Dimmock is located, produces more natural gas than any other county in the state.

Alan Hall, deputy chairman of the Susquehanna County Commission, said many of his voters in Dimmock had long ago leased land to gas companies and were pushing for gas production to resume.

“They know that gas in the area is very plentiful and in large quantities. ” he said on Monday.

Anthony Ingrafie, a former Cornell University engineering professor who has extensively studied gas well failures in Pennsylvania, believes that Coterra could rupture up to 50 wells in the moratorium area, producing $500 million worth of gas. Estimated. Energy companies use hydraulic fracturing or fracking to recover natural gas trapped in shale.

Ingrafie, a drilling industry commentator who once testified in federal court on behalf of Dimmock residents who sued Cabot, said further methane leaks and more problems were inevitable.

“This is Groundhog Day,” he said. “These poor, remaining, and still affected families are back to where they were in 2008. The State of Pennsylvania, the Governor’s Office, PA DEP are washing their hands.”

The promised water supply may not be operational until 2027, according to a settlement agreement with the DEP. In the meantime, Cotera is to install a temporary treatment system in the homes of residents who want it.

Dimmock resident Eric Ruth says his well was tainted with methane and it took him years to get drinking water from a well that was miles from his home, but he was finally able to connect to the public water supply. said he was pleased with But he was taken aback when reporters told him about plans to resume drilling.

“It’s disturbing to me that they rewarded them too soon,” he said Monday. “It seems to me that they should wait at least a year.” He said the regulator should have told Cotera, “If you show that you are complying with this agreement, we may let you do so.”


Rubinkham reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. His AP writer Mark Levy from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contributed to this report. Pennsylvania lifts ban on gas production in polluted village of Dimmock, Pennsylvania

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