Cabot Oil & Gas Co. has finally, after nearly a decade, settled a lawsuit filed by two Dimock, Pennsylvania, families who had claimed their drinking water became contaminated with methane after the company began drilling for natural gas back in 2007. The terms, which have not yet been made public, were approved on September 21st.
George Stark, a spokesperson for Cabot, confirmed, “The case has been settled. The matter is now closed.”
“I’m sure they don’t want it public, the gas companies, because it’s not good for them,” local resident Duane Warner said of the terms.
The Hulbert and Ely families had initially won $4.2 million in damages in a federal jury trial last year. However, Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson thought the verdict was unjustified and ordered the parties to engage in settlement discussions instead.
“After nine long years, the plaintiffs are happy and relieved to put the matter behind them,” their attorney, Leslie Lewis said. In total, fifteen families had filed a lawsuit over the water issues in 2009. All but the Hulberts and Elys had reached settlements with Cabot three years later, in 2012.
Residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, had alleged Cabot Oil & Gas’s drilling caused methane gas to leak into their wells, which contaminated their tap water. They claimed there was so much gas in the water, in fact, that they could light it on fire. The liquid had become brown and undrinkable.
The 2010 documentary Gasland, written and directed by Josh Fox, focused on the issues in Dimock. The families “didn’t care about money — they wanted justice,” Fox said. “And they got justice. I think they showed the world that this process is extraordinarily destructive to the environment.”
Cabot’s side of the argument included statements that there had always been underground methane in the community, so there was no proof their drilling caused the contamination. “The issues they have are cosmetic and aesthetic,” Stephen Dillard, the company’s lead attorney, said last year. “Those can be treated, but it’s not toxic.”
Residents disagreed, to say the least. “We’re hauling water every week from a spring in Montrose,” Scott Ely’s neighbor, Pat Farnelli, said. Montrose is a town nearby.
Farnelli’s family was one of the fifteen to initially sue Cabot. She said her family is trying to still use their well for laundry and dishes, but her daughter can’t be exposed to the water, because it irritates her skin. “We thought we had this huge financial opportunity knocking on our doors and no one realized that it was going to affect our water.” Lewis said there has been no change to the poor quality of the family’s well water since the trial in 2016.
Many are not surprised that there was a push to settle the final two cases after the others had done so. “No. I’m not surprised because I think sometimes people ask too much, you know? They expect, okay, their big money and I’m going to get big money,” Janet Hogle of New Milford said.