ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's environmental chief said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only a "rudimentary" understanding of the contamination in Dimock, the northeastern Pennsylvania village where residential water wells were fouled by a gas driller.
Taking a poke at his federal counterpart, which recently launched an investigation in Dimock, Environmental Secretary Michael Krancer wrote that "EPA is really at the very early stages of its learning curve with respect to Dimock and EPA's understanding of the technical facts and (the state's) enforcement history with respect to Dimock is rudimentary."
Krancer urged Shawn Garvin, the agency's regional administrator in Philadelphia, to allow the EPA probe to "be guided by sound science and the law instead of emotion and publicity."
Krancer, a frequent EPA critic who serves under pro-drilling GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, wrote to Garvin last week. His letter was first reported by StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration of NPR and public radio stations in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Krancer's office provided the letter Tuesday to The Associated Press, saying he had no further comment.
In an email, the EPA said Tuesday that the federal agency intends to work in a cooperative spirit with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
"We continue to keep Mr. Krancer and the department updated as we're actively reviewing the situation in Dimock and filling information gaps," the agency email said.
Krancer's department allowed Houston-based driller Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to halt deliveries of fresh water to a dozen households in Dimock more than a month ago, saying the company had fulfilled its obligations under a December 2010 settlement with the state over the 2008 contamination of 18 residential water wells.
Cabot denies it caused the contamination.
About a dozen residents who are suing Cabot in federal court say their water is still tainted with methane gas and toxic chemicals from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the technique that's spurred a nationwide boom in gas drilling while raising concerns over its environmental and public health impacts.
Dimock has become a high-profile battleground in the fight over fracking. It starred in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Gasland," and has attracted hordes of anti-drilling activists and politicians who point to Dimock as an example of what can go wrong with drilling and fracking.
A group of scientists and health professionals sent a letter to the EPA on Tuesday asking the agency "to take urgent action to protect the victims of hydraulic fracturing in Dimock ... (to) provide clean, potable drinking water as an emergency response action for these citizens."
The scientists were attending a conference in Washington, D.C., on the public health risks of fracking, sponsored by Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy and the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment
In his letter, Krancer told Garvin that the Dimock case "is further complicated by the backdrop of a pending plaintiffs' personal injury litigation not to mention the attention of visitors, out of state politicians and celebrities ... looking for and receiving publicity."
Krancer also knocked EPA's involvement in Pavillion, Wyo., where federal regulators for the first time suggested a link between fracking and groundwater pollution.
"Suffice it to say that we hope that EPA's efforts here not be marked by the same rush to conclusions," Krancer wrote.
The EPA's involvement in Dimock has been erratic. Federal regulators told residents in late November their water didn't pose a health threat, then backtracked as more sampling data came in that the agency said merited further investigation.
Then, on Friday, EPA officials promised to hire a contractor to deliver water to the residents. A day later, EPA reneged and said the matter was still under consideration.