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Showdown this week over 'fracking' for natural gas

Alex Brandon / AP

Jean Carter is one of the residents of Dimock, Pa., who had been getting free bottled water. She's seen here on Oct. 14 on her property with a natural gas well next door.

A major environmental group tells msnbc.com that come Wednesday it will join forces with 11 families in rural Pennsylvania against the state and a natural gas driller who has stopped shipping free bottled water that was supplied after methane entered the local aquifer.

The families in Dimock, Pa., were told not to drink top water nearly three years ago when 18 water wells were found tainted with methane. In recent months, Cabot has treated the water and the state now says it is fit to drink. Residents dispute that finding.

"A pivotal showdown ... is brewing between residents and industry" over the drilling process known as "fracking," Kate Slusark, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in announcing plans to challenge Pennsylvania's decision allowing Cabot Oil & Gas to discontinue shipments after it said it had cleaned up the damage.

"Even after treatment," the group said in a letter to the state department of environmental protection, "some residents still have found toxic chemicals in their water such as ethylene glycol -- otherwise known as antifreeze. Residents have also indicated that the system has been almost completely ineffective at removing other contaminants."

The families themselves have petitioned the state to get Cabot to restart water deliveries. The families, as well as NRDC, plan to submit arguments on Wednesday, the deadline set by a judge for filing in the case.

The Associated Press earlier reported that state regulators previously determined that Cabot drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into Dimock's aquifer. The company denied responsibility, but has been banned from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock since April 2010.

MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan travels to Dimock to investigate whether natural gas fracking is safe.

Dimock, Slusark said, "has become the national poster child for fracking-gone-wrong."

A Cabot spokesman told AP that the company has worked diligently to resolve the problems in Dimock, located 20 miles south of the New York state line.

"Cabot has reconditioned water wells, drilled new water wells and installed treatment systems that work properly and effectively. Additionally, we have tested the water and the results have proven the water meets federal safe drinking water standards," said George Stark.

The "fracking" process -- whereby chemicals are injected into the ground to separate natural gas from shale rock -- has divided communities across the Northeast, where some welcome the jobs and extra income while others fear environmental impacts.

New York state, for one, has had a three-year moratorium on fracking but is now weighing whether to lift it.

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