Pennsylvania residents whose streams and fields have been damaged by toxic spills and whose drinking water has allegedly been contaminated by drilling for natural gas are suing the Houston-based energy company that drilled the wells. A worker at the company is among the 15 families bringing suit.
The civil case, filed Thursday in U.S District Court in Scranton, Pa., seeks to stop future drilling in the Marcellus Shale by Cabot Oil and Gas near the town of Dimock. It also seeks to set up a trust fund to cover medical treatment for residents who say they have been sickened by pollutants. Health problems listed in the complaint include neurological and gastrointestinal illnesses; the complaint also alleges that at least one person's blood tests show toxic levels of the same metals found in the contaminated water.
The suit alleges that Cabot allowed methane and metals to seep into drinking water wells, failed to uphold terms of its contracts with landowners, and acted fraudulently when it said that the drilling process, including the chemicals used in the underground manipulation process called hydraulic fracturing, could not contaminate groundwater and posed no harm to the people who live there.Jon Hurdle reports for Reuters:
The case is one of the first to confront the industry over the technique, which critics claim pollutes aquifers with chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
Cabot's drilling allowed methane to escape into private water wells and in two cases caused wellhead explosions due to a gas build-up, the 45 plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim.
In a followup report from Reuters:
A Cabot spokesman said the company had not had time to study the lawsuit in detail but said Cabot was in full compliance with Pennsylvania's environmental laws and "disappointed" by the lawsuit.
"We don't see merit in these claims," Cabot spokesman Ken Komoroski said.
The company, like others in the industry, has argued that its drilling processes are safe because chemicals are heavily diluted and are injected into the ground through layers of steel and concrete thousands of feet below the aquifers that are used for drinking water.
The industry says there has never been a documented case of ground water contamination because of hydraulic fracturing.However, according to an AP report in the New York Times:
Pat Farnelli says there's something in the water at her house. The last time she drank it, she says she vomited four times. It's made her children sick, too.
More than a dozen families have filed suit, asking for an environmental cleanup, medical monitoring and money damages in excess of $75,000 each.
Dimock resident, Victoria Switzer gives this moving account of the lies, injustices, refusals and just plain nightmares she and other residents have been facing, and of the futility of her ceaseless efforts to obtain help:
Since shortly after signing a lease in 2006 I have been trying to bring attention to the serious consequences, the serious mistakes of the natural gas well frenzy here in Susquehanna County-my home area of Dimock.
I went to everyone I believed could help us -the list was long- Senators, Reps, Congressman Carney-his wife, DEP,seminars, meetings, anywhere, anyone I thought of that I believed had an interest in protecting the welfare of the citizens and the environment of Pennsylvania. I even tried working with Cabot Oil and Gas to help the situation-do the right thing. Their attorney assured me he would drink my water if I wanted him to- I think one sip of Dimock water would not have had him dropping in his tracks- but over a year or more? He would not provide water to an elderly widow on a fixed income-struggling to make ends meet.
No one would help us -even the latest consent order between Cabot and DEP is simply an agreement between them and allows them to continue the mayhem without any concern about the future of the residents of our valley and surrounding hills. There will be no cessation of drilling -there will be more here until there is nothing left of what we knew. When the landman arrived here-we believed him- "there might be some gas out here. There might be A WELL. You could get some compensation if they do. You'll never know we were even here-just a little Christmas tree left behind.We could get off that foreign oil."
By time we realized what we were in for it was too late.
Although the leases contained language that should have rendered them illegal and void, no one would stand up for us. Our representatives sided with the gas company. "Don't rock the rig!" This is great for the economy! Check out the huge ad Chesapeake took out in the Tunkhannock paper - Cabot did everything secretly and with arrogance.
We were never told about their "plan" for us and still as recently as September 16 would not could not tell us what they projected for our community. "We can't disclose that-we have investors to protect"!!!
So now the lawyers cometh-
Yes, they were on my list but they were last.
Yes, I know, they should have been first- before we signed in 2006.
We were stupid, stupid, stupid -trusting and naive- but should that allow the gas company to destroy our lives? Our property? Our water supply?
Please help us.
When you read or hear how greedy we are for wanting compensation for our losses-give those folks the facts -tell my story, tell all of our stories- I just want this company who was so careless
with the land, our environment to stop the destruction and restore some peace of mind to the people here.
Restoring a water supply is important. More importantly, the people here that are not making the millions -just folks who live in the middle of if- should be able to leave -when the second compressor station comes and the new 30 inch pipeline and the next wave of wells are drilled -we should not have to crawl away -our properties will be worthless- the quality of life here
will not be "sellable".
The gas company and a few large landowners will have made their fortunes on the misfortunes of this little group of people who had the courage to stand up to the very powerful and confident gas company.