But the water contamination is forcing the people who live there to accept a difficult compromise.
“You have to evaluate which is more important, the money or the water,” said a Dimock resident who declined to be named because he doesn’t want to antagonize Cabot, which he says will pay him more than $600,000 this year for the wells on his property. “The economy is so tough. Suppose you could stop drilling – no one wants Cabot to go away.”
For some, though, the benefits can be easily erased.
Norma Fiorentino, whose well exploded on New Year’s morning, got just $97 in royalties in February. Now a part of her monthly $646 Social Security check goes to buy water. “You can’t buy a good well,” she said.
Down the road, Pat Farnelli spends more than $100 of her monthly food stamp allotment to buy plastic jugs of drinking water. Next door, Ronald Carter, paid $7,000 to install two water treatment systems for his family, then learned they won’t remove the gas.
Cabot has begun voluntarily supplying water to at least five homes in Dimock, a gesture the company says does not mean it has acknowledged fault, said Kenneth Komoroski, Cabot’s spokesman.
Others have yet to get any aid.
“This isn’t something that people should be living with,” said Craig Lobins, the regional oil and gas manager for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. “It’s serious.”
Lobins places responsibility for the contamination squarely on Cabot.
In January the DEP blamed the company for polluting one water well. Then in late February it sent Cabot a list of violations it said led to methane seepage in other area wells. Investigators think the seepage was caused by a weakness in the well casing or an improper cement job, much like what had been reported in Colorado and Ohio. The good news was that they found no evidence that any of the hydraulic fracturing fluids had leaked into well water.
Komoroski, the Cabot spokesman, said it’s too early to conclude the company is responsible for contaminating Dimock’s wells.
“The DEP’s letter was premature,” Komoroski said. “It is possible that Cabot is responsible. It’s possible it is not.”
Cabot Oil & Gas has since pumped cement into the entire length of its well casings in Dimock – a safeguard similar to what has been prescribed in the other states – and believes that measure, which is more extensive than state regulations require, will solve the problem.
Yet Pennsylvania’s DEP sees no need to require full-length cementing at all the state’s wells, because what is happening in Dimock is “an anomaly.”
“Last year we permitted 8,000 wells, and this may be the only incident that occurred,” said the DEP’s Lobins. “You can’t cover every possible scenario that you could encounter out there, so when the regulations are crafted it addresses the ones that will be most protective of 99.9 percent of the wells.”
At the bottom of the hill on Carter Road, Richard Seymour runs a certified natural farm that ships produce across the state. His well is running red and turbid and bubbles with so much gas that he fears he’ll lose that agricultural certification. If there’s a technology, like cementing, that can protect his water, then shouldn’t it be required in every case, he asks?
“We feel pretty alone on this, pretty frustrated,” Seymour said. “I assumed the DEP, EPA, the state – the government – would protect our land. We didn’t know that as a landowner the burden was on us.”
Abrahm Lustgarten is an investigative reporter for ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces journalism in the public interest.