From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
A federal jury on Thursday found Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. responsible for contaminating two Susquehanna County water wells through its natural gas drilling operations and awarded the families a total of $4.24 million.
The Ely and Hubert families of Dimock Township were the last plaintiffs in a high-profile case that began in 2009 and originally included 44 of the rural town’s residents who claimed shoddy Cabot wells drilled early in the Marcellus Shale gas boom allowed methane and other constituents to migrate into their drinking water.
Cabot maintains that anything tainting the water supplies is there naturally or comes from sources other than its operations.
The jury awarded Nolen Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely each $1.3 million, plus $50,000 for each of their three children. The jury awarded Ray and Victoria Hubert each $720,000, plus $50,000 for their daughter.StateImpact Pennsylvania captured a quote from Gasland director Josh Fox:
The publicity surrounding the case of Dimock’s water helped touch off a global anti-fracking movement.
Filmmaker Josh Fox brought attention to Dimock’s struggle with Cabot Oil and Gas in the documentary Gasland.
“The gas industry and the frackers went down in the flames of Dimock’s water today,” he told StateImpact. “The sense of relief and joy and vindication, it’s beyond words.”Some who were in attendance and reporting on the trial on a daily basis were shocked at the jury's decision. From Natural Gas Now:
There’s something more, though, that defies explanation. It is the size of these ridiculous damage awards. Let me, for purposes of perspective, repeat what I noted the judge said in dispensing with the negligence claim (emphasis added this time):
We have no evidence from which I believe a jury could reach in assessment of either value before the jury or any diminution in value after the alleged injuries which took place in a time frame of 2008 through 2009.
And, with respect to this property, the only evidence that I have received from the plaintiffs is evidence that indicates a dramatic increase in the value of the property.
Now, think about that in the context of the judge’s later instructions that the nuisance award could “not include damages for mental or emotional distress or for replacement water costs.” There was, in other words, little or no basis for any award. Property value had increased and given the fact Ely had built after complaining about the water surely proved he hadn’t been discouraged from investing. (Or, was he was investing in a lawsuit by increasing his damages after the fact?) Moreover, he wasn’t able to claim distress or water replacement costs. So, what’s left? Certainly nothing approaching the damage awards reached here.
The awards and the verdict, in fact, appear be very challengeable for that reason. Cabot already hasFrackNation director Phelim McAleer mused on how this verdict might affect fracking in the future:
Q. So this proves fracking with all those chemicals is harmful and should be banned - doesn't it?
A. Interestingly fracking was rarely mentioned during the 12 days of evidence and when it was it was immediately shut down. It was made very clear that this case was not about fracking. The judge emphasized it to the jury and even the plaintiffs lawyers emphasized it in her opening speech: “This is not a case — this is not a case about toxic materials ending up in the water,” she told the jury. "We do not have proof of that. We don't have proof of that. This is not about fracking fluid appearing in the water. Hydraulic fracturing materials, we don't have proof of that,”
Q. So what were the two families awarded all that money for?
A. The families were allowed to allege that Cabot's drilling - not their fracking - negatively impacted their property values and created a nuisance that meant they could not have full enjoyment of their properties. The judge dismissed the claim that the drilling caused a decrease in their property values. In fact he said the plaintiffs showed the value of their properties increased since the drilling. However the jury then found that Cabot has created a nuisance to their enjoyment of their property. This claim largely focused on the impact on their water of gas drilling.
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