The families, living along Paradise Road, all signed leases with Chesapeake Appalachia to drill beneath their land. But in July, 2010, the residents began to notice muddy water coming from their water wells. Chesapeake supplied a filtration system, which residents say did not work.
O’Malley says his investigators concluded that a poor cement job resulted in methane migrating from the Marcellus Shale formation into the water supply of nearby residents.
Scott and Cassie Spencer, Heather and Jared McMicken, and Michael and Jonna Phillips filed suit in the Middle U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania, which was sent to arbitration. Three days of testimony took place before an arbitration panel in Philadelphia this week, precipitating the two parties reaching an agreement on Thursday.
O’Malley says all three families signed leases that forced any dispute into arbitration, which typically leads to smaller financial settlements than jury trials.
“They deserved much more money,” said O’Malley. “With what they went through, you couldn’t pay them enough. But this is enough to get them out and into new homes.”
Chesapeake also agreed to buy the homes from the families, which is included in the $1.6 million. But the company says their drilling practices did not cause methane migration. In a written statement, Chesapeake says no pre-drill water tests were conducted at these homes, which leaves open the question of whether the methane was present before drilling occurred.
“The PA Department of Environmental Protection currently recommends pre-drill testing within a 2,500-foot radius of any oil or gas drilling operation, and Chesapeake meets or exceeds that recommendation with its testing.
All of these water sources are beyond that testing radius, and thus Chesapeake had not collected pre-drill data for the water sources.”
The statement goes on to say that the pre-drill testing done in other area homes showed methane contamination before any drilling activity took place.Read the rest of the article here.
To summarize, this demonstrates something already known: methane migration can occur if cementing mistakes are made. This is not the same thing as the idea that many activists are trying to promote: that fracking chemicals can migrate upwards into aquifers.
It's also important to note that methane in water does not typically pose a significant health threat. There is the risk that comes from methane being flammable, and there is a risk if it builds up heavily in a poorly ventilated or confined area that it can cause health problems. But methane evaporates out of water, so drinking water from a well contaminated with methane is not typically considered a health risk.
That being said, Chesapeake agreed to pay the money and they also did not make the families sign a non-disclosure agreement, despite the reality that with no pre-drilling tests to prove that the methane contamination didn't already exist the company could have continued to fight the suit.
It'll be interesting watching the anti-fracking community spin this, and it'll be interesting to watch the drilling industry spin back. The bottom line is that the same questions that hang around all of the fracking debate are hovering around this story too: was the methane naturally occurring or was it caused by drilling? The families and attorney who stand to benefit financially from proving that it's Chesapeake's fault say it's Chesapeake's fault. The industry giant that doesn't want the notion that drilling is dangerous perpetuated says it's not their fault. Who do you believe? Probably whomever you want to.
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