Legal

Fracking firm accepts criminal responsibility for contamination of ‘Gasland’ town’s water

A US fracking company has agreed to pay $16.29 million for a new public water system following criminal charges over contamination featured in the Gasland documentary.

The small town of Dimock in Pennsylvania became internationally notorious when the 2010 film showed a resident setting fire to tap water. It inspired anti-fracking campaigns across the world.

A UK audience shows its support for the anti-fracking campaign at a screening of Gasland.
Photo: DrillOrDrop

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp was charged in June 2020 with 15 criminal counts after a grand jury concluded that the company drilled faulty gas wells that leaked flammable methane into water supplies in Dimock and surrounding communities.

Now called Coterra Energy Inc, Cabot long maintained that the gas occurred naturally. Dimock residents said they have gone more than a decade without clean, reliable sources of drinking water.

Yesterday (29/11/22), Coterra, the most prolific drilling company in Pennsylvania, pleaded no contest at Susquehanna County Court to discharging industrial wastes under the state’s Clean Streams Law.

In Pennsylvania, a plea of no contest means the company has accepted criminal responsibility. The plea cannot be used as an admission of guilt in civil proceedings.

Coterra has agreed to fund construction of a new public water supply and provide bottled water while the water system was being built. It will also pay the water bills for up to 20 homes for 75 years, prosecutors said.

Yesterday’s development was a milestone in a complicated 14-year legal battle by residents against the gas company.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found Cabot Oil & Gas was responsible for allowing methane to migrate into water wells of 19 homes in Dimock. These included one well that exploded in 2009.

Cabot reached a settlement with some residents in 2012 but the case continued. In 2017, a federal judge overturned a $4.24m award.

The grand jury said in a report in 2020:

“We find that, over a period of many years, and despite mounting evidence, Cabot Oil & Gas failed to acknowledge and correct conduct that polluted Pennsylvania water through stray gas migration.

“Indeed, some of these gas wells have been in place for more than a decade, yet Cabot has only recently taken steps to remediate them. In light of Cabot’s long-term indifference to the damage it caused to the environment and citizens of Susquehanna County, these were not merely technical violations. We conclude that criminal charges are appropriate”.

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

Also in 2020, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, filed criminal charges against Cabot OIl & Gas.

At the time, he said “Cabot took shortcuts that broke the law, damaged our environment, harming our water supplies and endangering Pennsylvanians. They put their bottom line ahead of the health and safety of our neighbors.”

Yesterday, Mr Shapiro said Coterra took “full responsibility for the crimes Cabot committed”. He said:

“Residents of Dimock have waited far too long for the clean water Pennsylvania’s Constitution is supposed to guarantee to all of us.

“This agreement brings justice to the residents of Dimock who for years had been ignored

“People across the country remember what happened here in Dimock, and now, they will know the rule of law won the day.”

Coterra was previously banned from drilling in a nine square mile area around Dimock. It said in a statement:

“Coterra has worked closely with the Office of Attorney General to resolve historical matters and create a path forward for all parties”.

The company added that it “strives to follow best practices, exceed industry standards, and to continue to be a valuable community partner.”

The campaign group, Food and Water Watch, said:

“After more than a decade of glaring inaction from state and federal leaders, finally the people of Dimock have a measure of justice thanks to the work of Attorney General Shapiro.

“But countless other communities on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction in Pennsylvania and elsewhere will continue to suffer from the inherent health and safety risks of fracking until our country fully transitions to a clean, safe, renewable energy future.

“Pennsylvania needs more action from Shapiro to rein in the oil and gas industry, and federal leaders must act to ensure that no American is subjected to continued poisoning, sickness and harm from drilling and fracking.”

6 replies »

  1. I am delighted for the residents of Dimock that have suffered serious harm because of fracking. Those that settled with the gas companies were silenced by draconian legal agreements. And the brave residents that stood up to publicly state the truth suffered a decade of vilification from the industry and supporters of fracking, including supporters here in the U.K.
    Many of us have not forgotten how the film Gaslands was similarly treated. Personal attacks on Josh Fox and accusations of falsehoods followed. Now the truth cannot be disputed.
    And if people take the time to really examine all the facts, what happened in Dimock cannot simply be batted away with claims that it couldn’t happen in the U.K. because it could. The groundwater was contaminated with methane and chemicals caused from drilling wells, accidents and spills. Methane ground levels are so high in Dimock that many residents have to have vents in their lawns to vent the excess methane to avoid risk of explosion.
    The harm in Dimock continues, what has happened in Dimock is not an isolated incident. There are numerous reports of ground water, land contamination, air pollution and health issues wherever fracking takes place.

    https://e360.yale.edu/features/fracking-gas-chemicals-health-pennsylvania

  2. Rather dwarfed by the $125m for the Kincade Fire, and then there was the Dixie Fire. Cause? Electricity distribution in USA causing forest fires! Yet here in UK there is apparently going to be a vast increase in pylons marching across the land.

    Looks as if you want any form of energy then perhaps UK is the place where it may be a bit more safely done. Alternatively, UK can just continue to export its carbon footprint to those over the horizon and accept shipments of LNG from USA.

  3. Schlumberger offices recently had some Just Stop Oil activity….. I am not saying that they were involved with Dimock as I dont know, but there is some logic behind JSO’s activity. What also never fails to amaze is the lack of knowledge displayed by most UK MPs. Disinformation or ignorance – it can come to the same thing.

  4. I agree with you regarding most UK MPs, CJR.

    Perhaps it is ignorance that they were unaware of the £160B required for new nuclear, now risen to £200B. The Emperors Trousers to cover up embarrassment when the wind doesn’t blow. Perhaps it was just a reluctance to be honest.

    Whichever, anyone seen how the waste will be managed? That would appear something not to consider yet as it will probably require £billions more whilst some still pontificate about cheap renewables!

    My wardrobe would also be quite cheap if it contained no trousers.

  5. The USA is NOT the UK!! Period!! (Rolls Eyes)

    In Cornwall they are mining Lithium, So are the Democratic Republic of Congo mining cobalt and Lithium, are they using the same methods and regulators?? NO!

    You cannot us a differing country’s practices, as gospel on what happens in the UK!

    Biased, Biased, Biased Reporting!!!

    • Well, you can E-G but for sake of covering the whole picture then the Kinkade and Dixie fires should also be included, plus thousands of others in one State alone.
      Never mind, I will keep trying to point out how selection equals distortion, even when encouraged not to state the obvious. When such an approach excites some to try and redefine what a fact is, trash the laws of arithmetic and then become a Mystic Meg seeing in their tea leaves that a previous Chief Scientific Advisor would have changed his opinion if he had lived, it can be observed that it works for some, the “we’s”. However, that is way outside common sense so certainly paints a picture for the rest of humanity.

      Wonder how many people in UK are worried about increasing the forests in the UK and electricity distribution? OMG, “we” are doomed, “we” only have to look to the USA to confirm it! Probably less than worried about turning off their gas supply fearing they may have some gas from USA helping to cook their turkeys this Christmas, if they can afford a turkey or gas. No free-range turkeys but free-range gas!

      Still no apology from the antis. However, even without that, and to provide some more balance, thank you fossil fuel companies for my £500 Winter Fuel Payment received yesterday. I have turned up my thermostat in celebration whilst considering where would UK be without such largesse? Shivering, and still with no apology.

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