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.
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”.
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.”