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There was a remarkable set of events in Dimock this week, as Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (based in New York) held a press conference to unveil their dirty pitcher billboard for placement in Pennsylvania. The sign depicted a pitcher of reddish-brown water combined with the suggestion that Dimock’s water was polluted with gas-related contaminants. Fortunately, several neighbors and representatives of Cabot Oil & Gas were there to challenge these myths, although you wouldn’t know it from some of the news reports. So was the owner of the property, who was so disturbed by the distortion that he insisted the billboard be removed. And it was – the very next day!
Altogether, about 40 people showed up for the event. The group was more or less evenly divided among media representatives, anti-gas activists, and pro-gas Dimock residents. The anti-gas crowd stood on one side and pro-gas folks on the other. Interestingly, the only interaction that occurred was when those on the pro-gas side sought to film the event and news representatives sought to interview them, both of which produced anti-gas angst.
The scheduled press conference was delayed while the anti-gas group waited for pro-gas folks to leave. Then they lined up in a row to claim they had no clean water, but offered no facts in support of their case. Meanwhile, George Stark of Cabot Oil & Gas held a press conference of his own, calling out the billboard for what it was: a gimmick. But George also came with some actual data, citing recent test results indicating the water met all EPA drinking water standards and challenged billboard proponents to offer their water test evidence, which, of course, they did never did. Here is some of what George Stark had to say:
Notice how the retired 60 Minutes producer behind this stunt (the fellow who runs Catskill Citizens) comes forward to challenge George and ask if he’s denying whether the substances listed on the billboard are in the water. George properly answers “not to that extent.” The tactics employed by the producer are typical of what we are seeing on the anti-gas side. He implies any amount of any of the elements listed on the billboard is evidence of contamination, knowing full well many of these are naturally occurring in most ground water and in everyday products we consume. I’ll have more on that in a moment, but, suffice it to say, George didn’t fall for it.
Bill Kelley, the owner of the land where the billboard was placed, was also there. As a resident, and one who has benefited by the rising economy created from natural gas development, Kelley was not pleased with the message and immediately contacted the billboard company to insist it be removed. The result, some 24 hours later, was a covered billboard readvertising the space – a victory for truth. Here is Kelley, talking about his reasons for taking this action:
Other residents also spoke up for the facts — as you can see from this somewhat chaotic interview scene and what the interview itself. Stick with it to hear this resident’s theory of the motivation behind the billboard. You’ll also see and hear what was left out of the story when some newspapers covered it – a large number of Dimock residents concerned enough about this billboard’s distortions to come out and protest it!
Now, what about those water tests? Well, we know nothing about the water pictured on the billboard because, incredibly, none of the sponsors offered any water tests or other verification to support their contentions. All they did was show some brown water in a pitcher with a backdrop that consisted of a list of elements, combining these with a messages and stating that the situation needed to be fixed. There was no indication whatsoever as to how any of this related to contamination, only the not so subtle implication something must be wrong.
But, is it? Well, no, not according to the actual data, which Cabot Oil & Gas released. Let’s review a few facts regarding the supposed contaminants identified on the now defunct billboard. One of those is arsenic, the stuff of murder mysteries. What is less commonly known is that there are multiple natural sources of arsenic including seafood, chicken and vegetables. It’s also found in groundwater throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and the drinking water standard is a maximum of 0.010 milligrams per liter (mg/l). Among the water test results released for the well in question were several arsenic readings as recently as September, 2010, all of which indicated less than 0.0o3 mg/l. The supposed contamination, therefore, doesn’t even rise to 30% of what is allowed for drinking water!
What about strontium, then? This substance is also found naturally and is used for everything from fireworks to treating osteoporosis. The natural version is neither radiological or toxic. It can be purchased at many health food outlets. There is no EPA drinking water standard for strontium, but the test in this case indicates a level of 0.235 mg/l and the USGS indicates the level would have to 1 mg/l to be considered to be elevated or high, with the medium concentration of strontium for large U.S. water supply systems being 0.11 mg/l in 1985. Strontium, therefore, is not a problem.
So, is there anything in the water from the well in question that exceeds EPA drinking water standards? No, every single possible contaminent measured came within EPA drinking water standards, including barium (0.15 mg/l measured vs. 2 mg/l standard), methane (9.11 mg/l vs. 10 mg/l), total dissolved solids (186 mg/l vs. 500 mg/l). But, there is one secondary standard that it is exceeded and it’s an aesthetic one for iron (0.36 mg/l vs. o.30 mg/l). It has nothing to do with drinkability and it’s characteristic of wells in the area that are not regularly purged, but it can explain one thing – a pitcher of dirty looking water from a well the owners refuse to use, and that says it all, doesn’t it?