EPA finds remaining water safe in famous fracking town

WASHINGTON Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:53pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is discontinuing water deliveries to four homes in a rural Pennsylvania town that attracted national attention after residents complained that natural gas drilling polluted wells.

Further testing showed no reason for further action, the EPA said on Wednesday.

The EPA had been delivering water since January to four homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania where the agency did a second round of water sampling after residents and local regulators submitted data that suggested water at the homes could be contaminated.

"The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin.

The EPA said its water sampling was complete and that it would work with residents on disconnecting water supplies provided by the agency.

One of the wells did show elevated levels of manganese, which is believed to cause neurological problems in people who have had high doses, but a treatment system at the well can reduce contamination to levels that "do not present a health concern," the EPA said.

Dimock residents have complained of cloudy foul-smelling water since 2009 after drilling by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

The town became ground zero for the debate about fracking after it was featured by director Josh Fox in the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary "Gasland."

Techniques including fracking have revolutionized the U.S. natural gas industry by giving companies access to vast new reserves that could supply the country's demand for 100 years, according to the industry.

Environmental and health groups, however, say that some fracking operations near homes and schools pollute land and water.

Water Defense, an anti fracking group, said safe levels have not been established for numerous contaminants that were found in the test samples and that many of them may cause serious health ailments.

An industry group applauded EPA's test results.

"We are very pleased that EPA has arrived upon these fact-based findings, and that we're now able to close this chapter once and for all," said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

A spokesman for Cabot, George Stark, said the EPA's findings confirmed data that the company and local agencies had previously accumulated that did not show any relationship between contaminants and oil and gas development in the area.

The EPA completed tests at an additional 61 homes earlier this year and said in May the samples did not show levels of contaminants that would make it take further action.

In the tests of the 61 homes, some showed concentrations of sodium, methane, chromium, arsenic and bacteria, but the agency deemed the levels were safe.

(Reporting By Timothy Gardner; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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