Driller charged over contamination in ‘Gasland’ townNew Delhi: An energy company faces felony charges for polluting residential water wells in a Pennsylvania community that has long been a battleground in the national debate over natural gas drilling and fracking.
Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. was charged Monday following a grand jury investigation that found the company failed to fix faulty gas wells in Dimock and surrounding communities that leaked methane into residential water supplies.
“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,” the grand jury wrote in its report. The grand jury cited Cabot’s “long-term indifference to the damage it caused to the environment and citizens of Susquehanna County.”
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office charged Cabot with a total of 15 criminal counts, including illegal discharge of industrial wastes and unlawful conduct under the state’s Clean Streams Law. Maximum fines are $50,000 or $25,000, depending on the count.
“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,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a video statement.
In a statement, Cabot said it had just seen the charges for the first time and would respond once it had fully reviewed them. It also said it values “community commitment and environmental compliance.”
“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,” it said.
The company has long insisted the gas in Dimock’s aquifer is naturally occurring, saying its pre-drill testing of thousands of private water wells in the area show a high percentage with methane. The grand jury asserted that Cabot’s initial sampling of wells and groundwater did not include tests for methane.
Methane, an odorless, colorless gas, is common in Pennsylvania groundwater. It can emanate from swamps, landfills, coal mines and gas wells. Methane is not toxic to humans, but at high concentrations it can lead to asphyxiation or cause an explosion.
It was an exploding water well on New Year’s Day 2009 that first aroused public attention in Dimock, a patchwork of homes and farms about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of Philadelphia.
Dimock became a battleground for pro- and anti-drilling forces after state regulators found that Cabot – one of the biggest drillers in the vast Marcellus Shale gas field – had contaminated 18 residential wells with methane.Homeowners sued, accusing the company of polluting their water with toxic chemicals and methane.
The village was featured in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland,” which showed residents lighting their twater on fire. Drilling supporters have long accused Dimock residents of seeking money and attention.
Last week, Shapiro’s office announced a deal with Range Resources Corp., Pennsylvania’s most active shale gas driller, to plead no contest to environmental crimes over its handling of contamination at a pair of well sites. Those charges were the first to come out of a two-year grand jury investigation into Pennsylvania’s huge Marcellus Shale gas industry.
Shapiro said Monday that the grand jury’s ongoing probe “will result in more criminal charges.”Unlike Range, he said, Cabot “continues to abdicate their responsibility.”
“Cabot knows what they’ve done. The residents of the commonwealth whose lives have been impacted know what Cabot has done. The game that Cabot continues to play, risking the lives of people across the commonwealth for a profit, well, that cannot go on any longer,” he said.