Dimock residents, protesters challenge environmental agencies to remedy situation

Protesters weathered blustery winds and frigid temperatures on Friday, Jan. 13, to voice grievances over drilling practices in Northeastern Pennsylvania, calling for the state to live up to promises to restore water quality of a small town in Susquehanna County.

The protests—which managed to close off a section of the Blue-Route—centered in Logan Square in Center City and were in response to a series of promises by the government to residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Starting in 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency reportedly promised residents of Dimock that Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation would supply the town with fresh water after its water was contaminated while the land was drilled for natural gases in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Protesters say things were going as planned until last November, when Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, under Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, mandated that Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation was no longer responsible for supplying the town with fresh water.

Since then, residents have had to rely on donations for their water from people like Russell Mendell, a member of the Brooklyn, NY anti-fracking company, Frack Action.

“[Dimock residents] can’t drink the water; it’s brown, it’s radioactive; I’ve seen dogs throwing up after drinking it–it’s sick,” Mendell said at the protests, in front of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency building at 1650 Arch St.

“The DEP stopped delivering water without a good explanation for why they stopped doing that,” he said.

Mendell also said that Michael Kranser, head of the DEP—who wrote a letter lambasting the EPA on their lack of knowledge on the Dimock situation—isn’t helping the cause because the DEP withheld information concerning the water’s contamination from the EPA, hindering its ability to intervene and alleviate the situation.

“The DEP hasn’t been there since they shut off the water, and for several months before, and the EPA has been there. The DEP had a head-start; they had documents showing how contaminated the water was, and without any notice they just shut off the water,” Mendell said. “If the DEP released the documents, then the EPA would have more information…Kranser is obviously working out of the interests of the gas companies, and not for the interests of the people of Pennsylvania who depend on the protection agency.”

On Jan. 6, the EPA reached out to the families of Dimock and ensured them that they would finally receive fresh water that had been withheld from them since November, but the next day the agency called the families again to retract the statement, and no water was given out.

Mendell and other protestors insist that “they’re trying to help the people of Dimock, but something is holding them back.”

“They definitely have enough information to move on the subject right now, but we think they’re still worried about getting backlash from the gas industry,” Mendell said.

Protesters called on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson—who was a featured speaker along with Mayor Michael Nutter at ceremonies in Logan Square—to fulfill her promise to help Dimock residents.

Enraged by the lack of accountability on all sides, some Dimock residents decided to put their own personal stamp on the fight.

Craig and Julie Saunter had made the trip down to Philadelphia from Dimock to assist in the protesters’ efforts, and provide first-hand experience testimonies to EPA negotiations inside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency building.

“[The EPA] know[s] they don’t have time to waste with test results for contamination, and that’s why they’ll make a final decision by next week,” the Sanuters said.

Until then, the protesters said all they can do is keep fighting and keep spreading the word about the Dimock situation.

“They know they have to act fast, because they know the whole world is watching,” Craig Saunter said.

Khoury Johnson can be reached at khoury.johnson@temple.edu.

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