Under Dimock Fracking Settlement, Cabot to Pay $4.1 Million to 19 Families

Residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania who claim their water wells were contaminated because of hydraulic fracturing will divide $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, according to a statement from the DEP.

Cabot also will pay the DEP $500,000 to offset the state’s expense of investigating the stray gas migration cases that have plagued Dimock residents for nearly two years.

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 for contaminating their wells and hurting the value of their real estate.

While Pennsylvania regulators are touting the Dimock fracking settlement as being in the best interest of the 19 families with contaminated wells, others claim Cabot is getting off too easy. According to The Scranton Times-Tribune, the agreement replaces an earlier enforcement action that called for Cabot to pay for an $11.8 million waterline to the homes. A senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told The Times-Tribune that the settlement is a “significant stepping down by the state” from the earlier remedy.

In its statement, the DEP said it agreed to the new settlement because of “opposition to the planned water line and the uncertain future the project faces.”

According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, since the state began investigating reports of stray gas in Dimock water wells in January 2009, the state has ordered Cabot to cap three wells and the company was prohibited from drilling within a nine-square-mile area around Dimock. The settlement removes the drilling restriction, the Post-Gazette said.

The amount paid to each of the 19 affected families will equal twice the value of their homes, with a minimum payment of $50,000, according to a Reuters report.

The 19 families who will receive payments from the settlement are divided in their opinion of it.

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

“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.”

Victoria Switzer, who has joined with her neighbors in suing Cabot, told The Times-Tribune that the agreement was a bad deal for the state. “It exonerates the gas companies,” she said. “What a message to democracy how mob mentality rules.”

Ron Carter, another of the litigants, told Reuters that his family would receive $344,000 under the new settlement but he didn’t know whether that would enable him to resume using water from his private well. “I think we got screwed,” said Carter, 71. “If your water isn’t any good, whatever money they give you isn’t going to correct the water.”

Carter pointed out that he has been using water from a system paid for by Cabot but that would be withdrawn within 45 days if he accepts the settlement, Reuters said.

In any case, it doesn’t look like the DEP-Cabot agreement isn’t the end of the Dimock fracking story. Dow Jones is reporting, for example, that the agreement will have no impact on civil lawsuits filed by Dimock residents in the U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Julie Sautner told PressConnects.com that that lawsuit will likely continue, despite the DEP settlement.

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