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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Trial Over Alleged Water Contamination in Dimock Pennsylvania Not Going Well for Anti-Drillers

Dimock, Pennsylvania became an iconic location for the anti-drilling movement a few years ago when several homeowners there accused Cabot Oil and Gas of contaminating their water by their local drilling and fracking activities.

While many of the people involved have moved on from fighting Cabot, a couple of landowners have pushed through to the bitter end of a lawsuit against the company in hopes of securing a big payday.

Most media outlets in the Dimock area, which were active in reporting on the contamination claims when they began to be made, are not reporting very much on the trial that is unfolding.  According to a couple of pro-drilling sources, it has not gone well for the families that were hoping to score a victory over the gas company.

From Natural Gas Now's Tom Shepstone comes this summary of how former Cornell professor and anti-drilling activist Tony Ingraffea, who was called by the plaintiff as an expert witness, faced the heat from Cabot's attorneys:
Tuesday’s cross-examination of Tony Ingraffea (pictured above with Artists Against Fracking who he serves as “Scientific Consultant”) was a long series of admissions by fractivism’s favorite expert, including the following revelations: 
  • That he never examined the geologic data for the two gas wells that were the focus of his testimony
  • That he never looked at, or even asked for, the morning report records from the well driller crews
  • That he never reviewed all the mud logs associated with the drilling of these gas wells
  • That he had previously testified under oath, in his deposition, that neither the challenges Cabot’s contractors confronted as they tried to drill and cement the gas wells in question nor the developments and events chronicled in the drilling records were necessarily evidence of negligence
  • That there was, contrary to his suggestion in the previous day’s testimony, no basis to assume Cabot would have been surprised to find shallow gas at the site
  • That he did not, in asserting one of the gas wells was no longer a vertical one but, rather, an “inclined” one subject to a “corkscrew effect,” review the directional survey reports for the well
  • That the “incline” making it, in his assumption, no longer vertical may have caused a deviation of as little as three feet from the normal drilling route
  • That pressure or well bore integrity tests left out of his previous day’s testimony produced results within the limitations established by Pennsylvania DEP regulations at the time as well as more stringent regulations adopted later
  • That the DEP regulations recognize and allow for pressures within a well within certain limitations, as long as those pressures are continuously vented to the atmosphere and this was exactly what happened in the case of the wells in question
  • That he had no evidence one of the wells he had testified about on Monday and described as a “problem well” was not properly plugged (an admission elicited by forcing Ingraffea to refer back to his earlier deposition)
  • That he was unaware of any bubbling that had been observed in that well since it was plugged
  • That he had no evidence the well was leaking after plugging
  • That he could not “unequivocally state, under oath, this, the methane that was bubbling in the well, was not methane that occurred naturally in the ground water in these aquifers”
  • That Scott Ely’s complaints about water quality began before the gas well in question was spudded
  • That his description of Cabot drilling activity at the time as “all hands on deck, go as fast as you can go” period was for a time when Cabot had drilled but one well per year (subsequently accelerated) and had taken as much 10 months after permitting to drill the well in question
  • That he didn’t know when one of the well pads he discussed had been constructed
It was like this throughout and then Dillard introduced one of the photos of a grinning Tony Ingraffee with Mark Ruffalo, Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono to confront the Tiger with evidence in stark contrast to his statement he did not “purposely attend any or participate in any activist rallies or activities.”  It spoke for itself. leaving Dimock plaintiffs’ attorney Leslie Lewis to simply utter “It is what it is.” That’s about right as photo told everyone in the courtroom what Tony Ingraffea is really about.
FrackNation director Phelim McAleer also has been at the trial.  Here is what he had to say about Ingraffea's appearance in court:
It has been a rough few days for Professor Ingraffea, the anti-fracking movement’s favorite scientist. Finally, he was under oath and had to tell the truth. When he didn't, he had to face his lies being exposed. He was giving evidence in the Dimock Water Trial where the Hubert and Ely families from Pennsylvania are accusing Cabot Oil and Gas of polluting their water during fracking. 
Under skillful cross-examination, Professor Ingraffea was forced to admit that he's an anti-fracking and anti-fossil fuel "advocate." He denied being an activist, but his face fell when lawyers for Cabot asked to show the jury photographs of him speaking in front of anti-fracking signs and participating in an Artists Against Fracking press conference alongside Ruffalo, Lennon, and Ono. 
Even the lawyer for the families, Leslie Lewis, blurted out in open court that she "wasn't thrilled" that the photos existed. 
But the hits to Professor Ingraffea's credibility kept coming. He admitted that his theory contradicted the plaintiffs’ own timeline. Under Ingraffea's theory, the "contamination" could only have started in late 2008/early 2009 because that was when the gas drilling started; however, the plaintiffs have stated repeatedly that their water allegedly deteriorated in the summer of 2008 before the drilling Ingraffea has been blaming for the past 8 years. 
Then Ingraffea shockingly admitted that after eight years of claims and multi-million dollar lawsuits, he had no proof that Cabot had contaminated any water in Dimock.
So yesterday, after he finished giving evidence, he was outside the courthouse. I decided to ask Professor Ingraffea some difficult questions. Suddenly the professor, possibly for the first time since he became a prominent anti-fracking activist advocate, didn’t want to talk to the press. In fact, he wanted to hide--behind a woman's coat.
Today comes the latest update from McAleer:
Plaintiffs in the Dimock Water Trial--two families alleging a gas company polluted their water through fracking--suffered a major setback after the judge presiding over the case expressed significant doubts about the veracity of some of the claims. 
Judge Martin Carlson made the comments after the plaintiffs rested their case following six days of evidence. The Ely and Hubert families in Dimock, Pennsylvania are suing Cabot Oil and Gas in a case that has become a cause célèbre for anti-fracking activists. The alleged pollution in Dimock has been described as the “Ground Zero” for fracking pollution. However, the case suffered an early blow when the plaintiffs’ lawyer admitted in opening arguments that they had no scientific proof of fracking fluids in the families’ water.

The most serious blow came today when Cabot asked Judge Carlson to dismiss the case and not send it to the jury, due to lack of evidence. After submissions, Carlson, without the jury present, said he would defer a decision on the dismissal, awaiting further information, but warned the plaintiffs’ lawyer he had “grave concerns” about the veracity of claim that the Elys had suffered a loss of value to their property, and he had “significant concerns” about claims that any damage to their water could have been caused by gas drilling. 
Judge Carlson did not give any indication when he would give a final ruling on the Cabot motion.
Click here to visit FrackNation's Facebook page, where you can look back at McAleer's coverage of the trial.

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