Cabot Oil & Gas Corp will have to pay $4.24 million to two families in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who claimed that Cabot’s shale drilling caused the water in their wells to become polluted.
In 2009, more than forty Dimock residents sued Cabot claiming that the company was responsible for elevated levels of methane gas in their wells. In 2012 thirty eight of the families settled out of court after tests showed that wells did contain elevated levels of methane, but lacked any of the chemicals associated with gas drilling. As a part of the settlement, Cabot agreed to install methane-venting equipment and treatment systems in some of the affected homes.
Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely and Ray and Victoria Hubert refused to settle and decided to pursue their case in court. They also declined the treatment systems, saying they did not think they would work.
For several years the two families pursued their case in court without a legal team, sustaining a series of losses as Cabot successfully won arguments to dismiss claims of breach of contract, fraud and personal injury.
During the final leg of the case, which ended last week, the Elys and Huberts were represented by New York attorney Leslie Lewis with support of various expert witnesses. On Thursday, 10th March, the court ruled that Cabot’s drilling was negligent and created a nuisance for the two families, and awarded the Elys $2.75 million and the Huberts $1.49 million.
“It’s very important that when a company such as Cabot harms Pennsylvania families, no matter how charitable they are to the community, no matter how powerful they are, that the courts are a sanctuary for people seeking justice,” the families’ attorney said in her closing statement Wednesday, according to a transcript.
Cabot Oil & Gas argued that Dimock had a long history of methane occurring naturally in the ground and seeping into wells. It also argued that the two wells nearest the Ely and Hubert homes were not drilled until several months after the residents first complained about stray gas.
The company’s attorneys indicated that they will move to set aside the verdict because they said the plaintiffs’ attorney repeatedly mentioned excluded evidence and acted in other ways that prejudiced the jury against the company.
“Cabot is surprised at the jury’s verdict given the lack of evidence provided by plaintiffs in support of their nuisance claim,” company spokesman George Stark said in a statement. “The verdict disregards overwhelming scientific and factual evidence that Cabot acted as a prudent operator in conducting its operations.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection barred Cabot from drilling new wells in a 9-square-mile section of the township in April 2010.
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