Monday, August 8, 2011

Cabot Posts Lab Tests, Accusing Dimock Activists of Lying About Dirty Water Props

[Original post Aug. 5.  Update record at end.]  Lab test results of water drawn from two of the better known, now-virtually-full-time anti-drilling activists of Dimock, PA — Victoria Switzer, and Craig and Julie Saunter — were posted online Aug. 3 by the Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation.

Both reports feature nine pages of line-by-line results.  Both are from samples taken
from raw, untreated water in November 2010.  And both show the water passing all government standards.  Cabot's starting page for downloading all this technical data is here.

All this has to do with an event originating around New Year's Day, 2009, when a number of Dimock water wells became suddenly murky and infused with methane.  PA regulators later concluded that methane had migrated from shallower-than-Marcellus formations, up to the level of the domestic well water aquifer — along the bedrock-adjoining exterior of unsealed, sub-par, concrete casing work done on nearby natgas wells owned by Cabot.  Cabot has disagreed.

But what's triggered this latest?

Cabot went public with the lab results the same day as a very different sort of persuasive evidence was briefly splashed on a roadside billboard:  A ginormous picture of a pitcher of muddy water, reputedly from the Sautner's supply, surrounded by the ominous-sounding names of a bunch of chemicals — and the claim that the water remains unfixed after three years.

Though it's a PA dispute, the
dirty water billboard was paid for by NY-based anti-frack group, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and unveiled in a made-for-media happening Aug. 3, along Route 29 — which runs between the Susquehanna County Seat of Montrose and the much more rustic Dimock Township.

One of the papers from Wilkes-Barre, PA was there, as was one of the Binghamton TV stations.  Didn't see anything out of Gannett, which is kind of surprising.

[The Binghamton TV report is interesting in that it mentions having received from Cabot copies of the same water test results the E&P company has now publicly posted on the web — but that it didn't have the time to interpret what they meant!  I love these guys!]

Cabot spokesman George Stark — who was actually physically on hand, during the activists' billboard opening — told the newspaper this: 
"This billboard represents a falsehood.  Test results and science show that the water is clean and meets Safe Drinking Water standards.  We continue to ask for others to prove the water is contaminated when we are able to prove otherwise."

Interestingly enough — as recounted by the same Binghamton TV station on Aug. 4 — the billboard was pasted over the very next day, following a phone call from the landlord of the land upon which the billboard company tenant had its sign — P.J.'s Restaurant and Bar.  The tavern keeper has apparently been making a decent income these days — tending to hungry, thirsty gas industry workers, or anybody else in the area that has some money to spend, downstream of the industry's significant economic impact.

One additional potential piece of cheap irony, which would have to be further researched:  I wonder if the billboard company involved, Park Outdoor, is a distant relative of Park Communications, the media empire of Roy H. Park, Sr., whose fortune now largely rests with the Ithaca-based non-profit Park Foundation — which has been repeatedly shown as one of the primary financiers of the Northeast's anti-drilling movement.

Another relevant and timely tie-in:  Two YouTube videos featuring yet another of the affected Dimock, PA homeowners, Loren Salsman, were posted July 25 by the Marcellus branch office of the industry funded group, Energy in Depth.  Salsman provides a number of key pieces of current information that, to my knowledge, have been completely overlooked during the continuing media stampede over this issue.

In the first video, Salsman explains how his Cabot-supplied water treatment system works; then draws a sample of his raw, untreated water (which does, in fact, have methane in it); and then invites two EID writers to drink up — which they do.  Salsman is of the belief that the methane in his untreated water has now returned to the area's previously existing background levels, an assertion which cannot ever be proven one way or the other — because Cabot unaccountably never tested area water wells for methane, prior to drilling.  (After treatment, of course, Salsman's water is now free of methane.)

In the second video, Salsman explains more about how the 18 families affected by methane migration issues are today broken into two camps — 11, such as Switzer and the Saunters, who remain upset, pursuing private litigation, and holding up jugs of dirty water; and 7, including him, who have accepted a settlement negotiated by the PA DEP, and are basically okay with the situation.  In a comment to this blog (see below), Salsman clarifies he got to this point without having ever signed onto the private litigation.

So what's true?  Test results from an independent lab?  Or a picture of a jug of dirty water collected by activists? 

[Update Aug. 8:  I've made a number of changes above in an effort to accommodate comments coming into my blog from people much closer to the situation than me, including a note from Loren Salsman.  I'm also starting to view the Showdown Under the Billboard, a week later, as showing signs of having been a not-fully-scripted confrontation, kind of like a minor version of the Boston Massacre.  In that category of told and re-told news events, it is ripe for the forces of propagandized folklore to take over the re-telling, the reinterpreting, and the all-important revision.  There are just too many layers of detail and spin where journalism is simply not up to the task.  That being the case, below are links to some later-noticed videos — which at least have the advantage of being primary records of what happened that day.]

Bill Kelley, owner of P.J.'s Restaurant and Bar, and the land upon which the billboard rented space, telling his perspective on the shale gas industry, and on why he was then in the process of trying to get the activists' billboard taken down.

Cabot spokesman Stark, talking to the media — and at the end answering an interruption from an activist, alleging that all the chemicals listed on the sign were found in the Sautner's water by Duke University.

Unnamed resident interviewed by Binghamton TV — quietly attempting to give a pro-drilling perspective, but pretty hard to hear with all the others talking loudly in the background.


Anonymous said...

You have made a mistake Not everyone was a litigant. Quite a few people just wanted the water fixed. The litigants have refused to let their water be tested recently, they refused to take a free water treatment system. They could have taken the free treatment system,kept their homes and royalties,taken the settlement, and still continued to sue. If your water was containated wouldn't you show everyone your test results so no one would doubt you? If it was all about the water would you refuse to let a treatment system be put on your property to clean and treat the water or would you rather leave it in the ground to poss. contaminate someone else's well? Isn't it true that Switzer never even took a water buffalo? Lets face it it has nothing to do with clean water. These people just want money lots and lots of money and more than anyone else. Poss. they don't want to pay the large lawyer bill they have. If the water is brown then prove it. Have a camera crew take a video of the water that comes from the well and show the test results that prove you have the items in your water you claim to. It's time for you to put up or shut up! This small group is harming everyone in Dimock they are the ones that have brought down the property values. If you care about the environment then let the company clean the water. If not move! It's time for you to Put up or shut up!

Anonymous said...

Another item you have wrong this did not start around New Years Day. One person had an incident then most people had been having issues long before New Years! Maybe you need to get your facts correct before you create something like this. If you had gotten all your information correct poss. you wouldn't believe everything the litigants are telling you. Do some research and get all the facts then do your article.

Loren Salsman said...

I am not, nor have ever been a litigant. PADEP determined that my well was impacted by methane from drilling, and therefore, put me in the Consent Order. The settlement was negotitated between PADEP and Cabot. We had nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Good story, but I don't think George Stark is a lawyer, Loren Salsman is definitely not a litigant (he's a non-litigant) and the headline is bad because it seems to accuse all Dimock residents of lying. I suggest "Cabot Asks Billboard Placers - "Where Are Your Test Results?".

Andy Leahy said...


Thanks for writing in. I have made some changes.

Loren, if you happen to check back and see this, how would you feel about putting together a post, something along the lines of "Dimock, PA, According to Salsman"?

I got plenty of room here.

Loren Salsman said...


I should have a blog posted on EID Marcellus sometime this week. Keep your eye out for it.If your ever in Dimock, look me up. I'll give you the 10 cent tour !



Hand Held Core Drill said...

I feel that you should have donesome research work before posting the blog.. Anyways thanks for the information..