Gasland fracking firm faces criminal charges over water contamination

Josh Shapiro

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro making a video statement on 15 June 2020. Photo: From video statement

A US fracking company featured in the documentary Gasland has been charged with environmental offences following a two-year grand jury investigation.

Cabot Oil & Gas faces 15 charges after the investigation concluded that the company’s activities were responsible for methane pollution, described in the film, to the water supply in Dimock, in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Gasland, directed by Josh Fox and nominated for an Oscar, was an early rallying point for the anti-fracking campaign in the UK and north America.

It was accused by fracking supporters of exaggeration, contradictions, inconsistencies, falsehoods and debunked anecdotes. Cabot Oil & Gas said the methane in Dimock water was naturally-occurring and not the result of its operations.

“Profit over our laws”

But the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said yesterday:

“The grand jury presentments prove that Cabot took shortcuts that broke the law, and damaged our environment — harming our water supply and public health.

“They put their bottom line ahead of the health and safety of Pennsylvanians. The Grand Jury repeatedly found evidence of a company that placed profit over our laws.”

In a video statement, Mr Shapiro said this was the first stage of a long legal process and more criminal charges would follow:

“I am here … to remind those fracking companies that the people of Pennsylvania come first. Our right to clean air and pure water comes first.

“If it’s against the law, and it hurts Pennsylvanians, we’re here to stop it — no matter how powerful or well-connected you are.”

15 charges

Cabot Oil & Gas

Mr Shapiro said his department had filed charges against Cabot on:

  • 7 counts of Prohibition Against Discharge of Industrial Wastes
  • 7 counts of Prohibition Against Other Pollutions
  • 1 count of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law

He said the grand jury heard testimony from several residents in Dimock and surrounding townships that they had suffered from the environmental hazards associated with repeated methane exposure.

A water well exploded and residents noticed their water was cloudy, brown or contained black specks. A former Cabot employee held a match to a jug of water from his own water supply and it caught fire. Another resident stopped drinking his own water and had to make a 14-mile round trip for alternative supplies. The problems had continued for a decade, according to the grand jury evidence.

These were not technical violations, Mr Shapiro said, and the company had denied that its operations could contaminate water:

“[It] failed to acknowledge and correct conduct that polluted Pennsylvania water through stray gas migration.

“Cabot continues to abdicate their responsibility to our environment and to the safety of our residents.”

Mr Shapiro said Cabot had taken pre-drill water samples to assess how clean local water supplies were before operations began.

But he said Cabot did not test its own samples for methane.

“As the grand jury presentment shows, Cabot’s failure to test its pre-drill samples for methane eliminated the ability to establish a baseline for properly assessing and addressing the problem of stray gas migration.

“In essence, if they didn’t test their samples there would be no proof that they were contaminating nearby supplies.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection reviewed 10,615 water samples collected by other operators in Susquehanna County which did test for methane. These included samples for 12 drinking supplies in Dimock township.

Mr Shapiro said:

“All 12 of these sampling locations demonstrated excessively high methane levels. In fact, the highest reading was a level far exceeding the point at which gas filled water can literally explode.”

Cabot statement

Cabot said it would respond once it had fully reviewed the charges, but it valued “community commitment and environmental compliance.”

In a written statement, the company said:

“Cabot will continue to work constructively with regulators, political representatives, and most importantly our neighbors in Pennsylvania to be responsible stewards of natural resources and the environment.”

Legal battle

Yesterday’s charges are just the latest development in the long-running legal case between Dimock residents and Cabot Oil & Gas.

Fifteen families filed a federal lawsuit against the company in 2009. Most settled out of court and signed non-disclosure orders.

In 2016 a federal jury found the company negligent for polluting water wells of two families. A court rejected the compensation award totalling $4.24 million a year later and the families settled.

A ban on Cabot drilling in a nine square mile area of Dimock continues.

  • Earlier this week, the fracking company, Range Resources, pleaded no contest to environmental offences over its handling of contamination at two well sites in Pennsylvania.


Video statement of attorney general Josh Shapiro

Charges filed against Cabot Oil and Gas

Grand Jury Presentment in the case of Cabot Oil and Gas

45 replies »

  1. ‘then image how much more gas will be required if or when our economy recovers’.

    ‘Whilst gas is a critical part of the UK’s energy demand, the long-term trend for gas is downwards’

    Click to access Chapter_4.pdf

    If you are worried about gas supply maybe you should voice your concerns about our substantial exports of our home grown North sea gas seeing as we export around the same amount as we import in LNG.

    As for UK fracked gas ever supplying any of the ‘heavy lifting’. Another ‘Cartman blew a funny fuse’ moment.

    • Gas demand has decreased since the mid-2000s mainly due to reduced industrial consumption, however this may change due to lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic with the realisation of the need to secure home production of vital equipment.

      Let’s also see what the solution and supply method is for when all our transport is electric and heating is produced using Hydrogen. The Drax decision is a good indication.

      Even Musk recognises the limits of renewables and batteries, do a little research into the RP-1 fuel that is burnt and oxidised to power his SpaceX Falcon rockets. He will be using it on at least 26 occasions to get 1,584 satellites in orbit for his Starlink system and additionally on launches to ferry Astronauts to the ISS.

    • JP – your memory is letting you down. Don’t you recall that some UK gas is “exported” because the pipelines go to other Countries – Chiswick / Grove / Markham / Minke / Windermere / Windgate all go directly to Europe.

      I see your maths is up to scratch – in 2018 we produced 450GWh gas, we imported 518GWh gas and we exported (including from the above fields) 84GWh gas.

      As you also know some of our imported gas is directly exported – to be continued as Ireland has cancelled their LNG project.

      Stick to CBLs JP…..

  2. What a load of tosh!

    One word answer: DRAX!!

    So, no one who contributes to DoD will have noticed that the largest GAS fired power station in Europe has just been authorised!

    Some really do believe there are a load of suckers out there. Well, there may be. But not enough to make a difference.

    • ‘What a load of tosh!’

      Let’s look at the facts. Government figures.

      4.13 Whilst gas is a critical part of the UK’s energy demand, the long-term trend for gas is downwards, with demand in 2018 more than a fifth lower than in 2000 (see Chart 4.5). Most notably, industry demand has shrunk over this period, down to just over 40 per cent of what it was in 2000. Similarly, demand for power generation was down (just over a tenth) and domestic demand has also shrunk by 16 per cent, despite both a rising population and growing number of homes. Increased efficiencies in heat use, including greater levels of home insulation, are in part responsible for this.Despite the overall downwards trend since the mid-2000s, there are notable peaks that correspond
      with weather variations, which generate a greater demand for space heating in homes and offices.

      4.14 Gas demand in 2018 increased by 0.9 per cent compared to 2017 to 881 TWh. However,gas demand for transformation, including electricity and heat generation, continued to fall by 4.2 percent. This includes gas used for electricity generation which decreased by 4.4 per cent because of the continued increase in output from renewable electricity sources.

  3. Yes, what a load of tosh.

    John has already supplied you with the answer, and yet you try and weave a fantasy when the reality has already been provided. Even your own quote says: “Industry demand has shrunk over the period etc. etc” Very little to do with energy efficiency, or renewables, but off shore sourcing and demise of UK industry. So, UK has little high energy input industry left because UK energy is now so expensive, (and we know the reason for that!) and instead we import stuff from the other side of the world where they utilise cheaper, dirtier energy and then a few in the UK can pontificate about how they have such superior morality and add climate change denier tags to those who can see that reality! Hypocrites might be more accurate, but tosh is kinder. If Covid-19 has shown nothing else, it has shown that. Or, are you suggesting the nurses and doctors could so simply have been supplied with UK PPE in any meaningful quantity, and that the manufacture of items like PPE require no energy? Good job a little is left in UK, with chemical plants increasing output of artificial rubber for medical use. Wonder what enables that?

    To me, your fantasy is tosh. And more dangerous than that, as globally it makes the issue worse. For those who need the comfort blanket of fantasy, very exciting. I will stick with the reality.


    What do we have here ?

    Just as JACK always said, Fracking is nothing more than a toxic, enviournmentaly damaging, climate changing, dangerous to human and animal health, debt ridden PONZI scheme.

    To add further to the above DOD headline, here is the unraveling of one of the original pioneers of the US fracking industry.

    Chesapeake Energy to file for bankruptcy as soon as this week – sources, 16th June 2020.

    Let’s not forgot , these companies going BUST in the US with $ billions of DEBT , still haven’t been able to make it pay in the land of almost ZERO regulations, where anything goes .

    WHO do you think will eventually pick up the tab for all this debt ? YES you guessed it , shareholders, large pension investment firms and the good old American tax payer.

    Can you imagine what a disaster UK Fracking would be, if ever it got a foothold.

  5. Company’s response in more detail,

    Cabot categorically denies assertions that the company acted with indifference toward the community where we live and operate. Our history and involvement in the community shows a very different reality than what was painted in this narrative. We take our responsibilities seriously and we are proud of our commitment to environmental stewardship. Cabot is an industry leader with proven track record of pioneering innovative technologies and adopting best practices in our operations.

    Several state and federal government agencies along with independent academics have conducted exhaustive studies into shale development in Pennsylvania. These studies have failed to find evidence of systemic impacts to drinking water resources related to hydraulic fracturing. It is a well-known fact that methane is naturally occurring in many of the water resources of NEPA. Much of the narrative is a restatement of long discredited claims.

    Natural gas development has created thousands of jobs and robust economic activity in rural areas of Pennsylvania. Cabot is the largest employer in Susquehanna County and we are proud to help grow and expand the county’s economic base, including in uncertain economic times and the current pandemic. The safety and well-being of our employees, contractors, landowners and neighbors is paramount and we will continue to keep that as our number one priority.

    • noun: Propaganda

      information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.


      If you funnel £ billions a year in to my pockets , I promise to put thousands of people in to well paid jobs.

      What type of work you may well ask , well using a small garden flower, I will put them to work making Daisy chains. Although it will burn through investors and tax payers cash at the same rate as the fracking industry, it will be a lot less toxic and harmful to humans and nature.

      As far as water pollution in Pennsylvania goes , the disasters are endless.

      More than 5 years ago, water pollution was a problem in Pennsylvania .

      With Arthur Daley keeping the books , fracking companies have worked hard to try and maintain that all is good regarding water pollution.

      People want clean , fresh water.

      After 7 years, these Pennsylvania residents still have no water. But they got cash to keep quiet

      Now this is just a very small sample of the links, that I can supply, which show how fracking in Pennsylvania is nothing more than complete and utter environmental, toxic disaster.

      • Josh Shapiro is a politician and lawyer currently running for re-election as the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

        He appears to be digging old ground in the long running legal cases between Dimock residents and Cabot Oil & Gas.

        The legal cases at Dimmock have often been confusing, the last case when it went to court, the plaintiffs were unable to prove water contamination, with their lawyer specifically saying the case wasn’t about water contamination. Instead it became about ‘nuisance’. The plaintiffs accused the drilling company of causing headaches, rashes, sore throats in their kids etc, but never took their kids to a doctor.

        There have been lost of studies regarding possible water contamination caused by fracking in Pennsylvania.

        Researchers from Yale University regularly visited a 7,400-kilometer region across Pennsylvania during a period of three years, ultimately taking 64 samples from residential drinking water wells. However, the team announced it found ‘no evidence’ that compounds found in the drinking water wells came from fracking,” the report from Yale University said.

        Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a news release that “consistent evidence from comprehensive testing” found no indication of groundwater pollution resulting from shale gas drilling or fracking operations.

        Studies are showing the drinking water around natural gas fracking sites in Pennsylvania are in pretty good shape.
        A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found methane spikes were due to natural variability, not drilling.

        Another study by Penn State University used information from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and found water quality either unchanged or improved when measuring barium arsenic and iron.

        Perhaps Jack you need to concentrate on issues closer to home that deal with our issues, geology and regulations.

        Many people have had their water supplies effected by the building of wind farm infrastructure on their water catchment area.

        Scottish Water no longer allow turbines to be built on their public water supply catchment areas, but wind farm developers are still effecting and destroying private water supplies (there are over 100,000 private water supplies in Scotland).

        Here’s the decision from the Court of Sessions on the latest appeal (March 2020) made by Community Windpower Ltd against Scottish Ministers for an Enforcement Notice requiring the provision of replacement and alternative water supplies for 22 private supplies.

        This community’s water supplies had already been badly effected by the adjacent Whitelee wind farm.

        • Before I respond to JOHN HARRISONS above post.

          May I take this opportunity to announce this great, CLEAN, GREEN strive forward in wind farm innovation.

          Not only will wind farms generate clean, green, renewable energy, they will also take toxic pollutants out of the air .

          STRANGE how some, still want to poison you and your family with fracking . I wonder what their motivation is ?

        • Ok let’s look at JOHN HARRISONS above post a little closer .

          This water pollution from wind farms, that he tries to dramatically press home, was caused during the building of the wind farm. The wind farm was built in what is known as a surface water run off area for a reservoir . This problem was only applicable during the building of the wind farm .

          In taking note, that this is what JOHN HARRISON is basing his argument on and to put this in to a clearer context . JOHN HARRISON would also be opposed to the building of a Hospital, Church, School, Houses or a Road on any such area where the surface rainwater, eventually ran into a reservoir.

          Please therefore note, ANY BUILDING project would cause pollution in such an area .

          NOW consider the high possibility of toxic , cancergenic pollution that would come from allowing Fracking in such an area . Not only would you have pollution from,
          ( 1 ) During the building stage of the fracking well pad.
          ( 2 ) From an endless number of heavy goods vehicles and tankers, coming and going on a regular basis.
          ( 3 ) The possibility of toxic run off from the well pad itself, due to the regular handling and use of chemicals during the fracking process.
          ( 4 ) Toxic emissions being emitted/ burnt and pumped in to the atmosphere from the stack.
          ( 5 ) A strong possibility of pollution from chemicals seeping in to the reservoir from underground.
          ( 6 ) The ongoing financial cost and maintenance of orphaned wells .

          Just take a look at the catalogue of errors Cuadrilla made and they barely got of the fracking starting grid.

        • NOW, if you want to learn about the DANGERS of FRACKING in your communities, then look no further than the strong warnings coming from world renowned organisations and professional bodies of people, such as doctors and professors of medicine, science and engineering.

          I could spend a day putting up LINKS for you to view. Instead I will just put up a few , if anyone wants to see more, please ask .

          Breast Cancer Action

          Dangerous, toxic and harmful’: Fracking a public health risk, doctors association says


          Toxic chemicals used in fracking shown to cause miscarriage, birth defects and infant mortality

          • Jack, didn’t Breast Cancer UK have to withdraw their claims about fracking, twice?

            You also seem to have forgotten that UK regulations are quite different from those that applied in the US during the early days of fracking.

            They are quite specific on not allowing fracking near water extraction sources, the use of chemicals which are non harmful to water and that are approved by the EA, the requirement for Impermeable drill pads so that not even rain water that falls on the pad cannot get into the ground…etc.

            Public Health England continuously review the literature on the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction.
            They continue to state “We conclude that the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health in the vicinity of shale gas extraction sites will be low if shale gas extraction is properly run and regulated.”

            If you are only concerned with issues in the US, then the following maybe of interest.

            Colorado’s health department, in its large scale review of research on how living near oil and gas drilling and fracking affects health, concluded that there is, at best, limited evidence for harm.

            What the review data showed is that from a registry standpoint, based on a number of health conditions, cancer, birth defects, etc. Is that the rates of these different health concerns or issues in the oil and gas rich communities are no different from those that were not in oil and gas rich communities.

            The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, could only find 18 out of all the peer-reviewed studies published from 2000 through to 2017, that claimed to show a direct health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, suitable and worthy for inclusion in their review.

            Most of these studies resulted in mixed findings of health outcomes.

            They came to the conclusion that the studies reflected the difficulty in drawing direct connections between HVHF and human health outcomes.

          • AHH yes JOHN HARRISON, under the Frack , Frack , Frack attitude of the David Cameron, Tory government, the pro-frackers scored a minor victory as they pressured/bullied Breast Cancer UK in to withdrawing some of their science based concerns regarding the dangers of fracking .

            It reminds me of the threats the Nationl Trust endured, when they were strong armed in to accepting seismic testing on their land .

            Savour those sweet little victories JOHN, as those days have long gone . Recent legal rullings and a more greener Tory government, now give landowners the ability to raise a firm two finger salute in the face of such threats .

            Just for the record JOHN, here is Breast Cancer UK’s position on the matter.

            QUOTE, ” Breast Cancer UK has strong concerns about the potentially adverse health effects of increased exposure to harmful chemicals as a result of fracking.

            Breast Cancer UK supports its European partners’ calls for a “moratorium on all exploration and exploitation licensing in all EU countries [including the UK] and a comprehensive review of EU policies which pertain to fracking. ”


            Here is the position of Breast Cancer Action :


            Take a look at this……. Fracking is linked to breast cancer: Chemicals used in high-pressure oil and gas extraction cause uncontrolled cell division : ( DAILY MAIL )


            Also take a look at this ……. National Center For Health Research….. Fracking and your health ( breast cancer )


            • JOHN HARRISON,

              HOW can you safely regulate Fracking ? A process that uses a whole host of toxic chemicals and then injects them in to the ground at pressures of up to 20,000 PSI .

              To give ordinary folk an idea of what pressure this is …….. Your car tyre will have an approximate pressure of 30 PSI.

              A three year old child could work this one out …… At 20,000 PSI, these chemicals are going to go all over the place, putting things like underground water aquifers at great risk .

              If you think these fracking companies can be trusted to operate correctly ladies and gentleman, just take a look at Cuadrillas breathtaking disasters and utter failures.

              I REST MY CASE.

              • Jack, I think the best quote came from the professor who led the University of Cincinnati and University of California-Irvine study of groundwater quality in the Ohio Middle Ordovician Utica Shale hydraulic fracturing play.

                The study found that the proportion of water-borne methane attributable to a “fossil fuel derived natural gas source” did not increase as fracking operations expanded. Instead, most methane near the sites was attributable to biogenic and bacterial sources, and that remained true even as drilling increased.

                Announcing the results of the study at at an anti-fracking Carroll Concerned Citizen’s meeting, professor Amy Townsend-Small stated “I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.”

                • JOHN HARRISON,

                  Amy Townsend-Small, is a Lone Voice in the wind , with her pro-fracking stance .

                  Published in the British Medical Journal ( BMJ ), here is a list of prominent figures / professional people who WARN of the dangers of Fracking .

                  QUOTE, “The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming. There are clear grounds for adopting the precautionary principle and prohibiting fracking.”

                  Yours sincerely,

                  Dr Robin Stott, Co-Chair, Climate and Health Council
                  Professor Sue Atkinson CBE, Co-Chair, Climate and Health Counci
                  Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL
                  Professor Maya Rao OBE
                  Professor Martin McKee, LSHTM
                  Dr Clare Gerada, GP and former Chair of RGCP
                  Dr Christopher Birt, University of Liverpool and Christie Hospital, Manchester
                  Professor John Yudkin, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UCL
                  Dr Sheila Adam, former Deputy Chief Medical Officer
                  Professor Klim McPherson, Chair of the UK Health Forum
                  Dr John Middleton, Vice President UKFPH
                  Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, KCL
                  Helen Gordon, Chief Executive, RPS
                  Dr Frank Boulton, Medact and Southampton University
                  Dr Sarah Walpole, Academic Clinical Fellow
                  Professor Allyson Pollock, QMUL
                  Dr Julie Hotchkiss, Acting Director of Public Health at City of a York Council
                  Professor Jennie Popay, Lancaster University

                  Not only is fracking an expensive, toxic process, it also emits high levels of climate changing greenhouse gases.

                  Take a look at what NASA in the USA has to say about this.


                  When you consider Fracking , a process that pumps around 40,000 GALLONS of water and toxic chemicals in to the ground at pressures of up to 20,000 psi per frack (( dont forget your car tyre pressure is only about 30 psi .)) Where on earth do you think these toxic chemicals are going to end up ?????? ALSO let’s not forget the Methane and toxic, radioactive chemicals within the shale rock that are released during this process. Where do you think 20,000 psi pressure is going to push them ??????

                  The answer really is a no brainer, nursery school stuff , of course it’s going to go all over the place .

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