January 26, 2012
The rural town of Dimcock, Pennsylvania, in the US, rests in the rolling hills in Susquehanna County. It used to be picturesque, but today it boasts more blight than Appalachian charm.
In 2009, local claims of water contamination by Dimcock’s residents had reached almost hyperbolic proportions, with reports of wells spontaneously combusting, kitchen faucets spouting corrosive liquids, pets mysteriously shedding their hair, and morning showers resulting in skin lesions.
This is probably because the town, which is home to fewer than 2000 residents, sits on top of the Marcellus shale, a massive formation of sedentary rock that the US Department of Energy estimates contains some 262 trillion cubic feet of valuable and recoverable natural gas. “It probably transforms the US energy outlook for the next 100 years,” Tony Hayward, the former chief executive officer of the oil company BP, has remarked. The oil was extracted using hydraulic fracturing, also known as ‘fracking’.
This week – three years after the residents first lost access to their drinking water – the US Environmental Protection Agency has launched an investigation into the source of water contamination in the area.The inquiry is part of an ongoing study that the Agency is currently undertaking to assess the environmental health consequences of fracking. A preliminary report is expected at the end of the year, and a final assessment is slated for 2014.