Cabot Accused of Using Dimock Fracking Settlement to Derail Federal Lawsuit

Is Cabot Oil and Gas trying to use the state settlement over water contamination blamed on its hydraulic fracturing in Dimock, Pennsylvania to scuttle a federal lawsuit filed by a dozen of the town’s residents? According to an article posted on thedailyreview.com, some Dimock plaintiffs say the gas company is engaging in “dirty tricks” to get them to drop the federal fracking lawsuit.

Dimock, located in Susquehanna County, was prominently featured in the HBO documentary “GasLand” which detailed the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a natural gas drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure. In late 2009, a group of Dimock residents sued Cabot in federal court for contaminating their wells and hurting the value of their real estate.

Last week, it was announced that 19 Dimock families would split $4.1 million under a settlement negotiated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Cabot Oil and Gas Co. The Dimock fracking settlement also binds Cabot to offer and pay to install whole-house gas mitigation devices in each of the 19 affected homes, and requires the driller to pay the DEP $500,000 to offset the state’s expense of investigating the water contamination issues that have plagued Dimock residents for nearly two years.

According to the DEP, the state fracking settlement with Cabot would have no bearing on the federal fracking lawsuit filed by the Dimock families, and that it carries “no requirement” for any of the families to drop that suit.

But according to thedailyreview.com, several Dimock plaintiffs say letters Cabot delivered to the 19 families last week asked them to release the company from all legal claims against it in exchange for receiving the money. So what’s going on?

Cabot claims it’s all a misunderstanding. According to thedailyreview.com, the Pennsylvania settlement requires that the family’s proceeds be put in escrow, and the money can’t be accessed for at least 30 days. A Cabot official told thedailyreview.com that last week’s offer was intended only as a way to speed up the payments. By surrendering their legal rights, the Dimock plaintiffs could have their money now, and avoid waiting the 30 days it will take the escrow to be funded.

But a lawyer for the families is crying foul. The attorney told thedailyreview.com that the Cabot document contained no information that identified it as an optional offer to speed up the payments.

“It was an effort to acquire a waiver for all present and future claims in exchange for this money.” the attorney said. “They tried to slip something by.”

As we’ve previously reported, many Dimock residents were already unhappy with the state settlement. The agreement replaces an earlier enforcement action that called for Cabot to pay for an $11.8 million waterline to the homes, something many of the Dimock plaintiffs had wanted.

Julie Sautner, a Dimock fracking victim, complained that affected residents weren’t more involved in the state settlement, and that she felt betrayed, according PressConnects.com.

“John Hanger (head of the DEP) made us a promise for a water line, so we all thought that’s what we were going to get,” Sautner said. “That would have been a safe water source for us, and at least it would have made our home whole again.”

Now, Sautner is criticizing Cabot for its latest ploy.

“They’re sneaky,” Sautner told the dailyreview.com. “There may be people that are desperate but nobody is that desperate. We’re going to wait.”

Sautner and some of her co-plaintiffs in the Dimock fracking lawsuit have said they intend to continue to pursue their claims against Cabot, despite the state settlement.

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