Gas Driller Cabot in Trouble Again

Oft-penalized gas driller Cabot Oil & Gas - the company responsible for the contamination of private water wells in Dimock, PA - has gotten in trouble with the authorities again.  This time it is the Delaware River Basin Commission, which regulates activities in the Delaware River watershed, that has come down on the company.  The DRBC has ordered a wastewater treatment facility to stop accepting wastes from Cabot because the company sent 1.8 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities to a Pennsylvania township, where much of it was discharged improperly into Neshaminy Creek - a tributary to the Delaware River - without being treated.  The Upper Delaware River - which supplies drinking water to more than 17 million people - was named last year as the country's most endangered river because of the threat of contamination from inadequately regulated gas drilling activities in the Marcellus Shale.

This is just the latest in a string of troubles for Cabot, which has faced a slew of enforcement actions related not only to the contamination of 19 families' water supplies in Dimock, but numerous other violations, ranging from frack fluid spills to improper record-keeping.

Speaking of Dimock, back in October, I optimistically blogged that help was on the way to those residents of the tiny community who have been living without safe drinking water for over two years since bad drilling practices contaminated the local aquifer over 9 square miles.  Specifically, we hailed the news that the state was requiring Cabot to pay $11.8 million to connect impacted homes with a new municipal water pipeline.

Unhappily, the state has since gone back on its commitment to the Dimock residents.  Last month, caving under pressure from Cabot, the Department of Environmental Protection scrapped its demand that Cabot pay to connect the community to a safe municipal water supply and instead entered into a settlement requiring Cabot to pay $4.1 million to the 19 families, or twice the value of their homes.  According to outgoing DEP Secretary John Hanger, the money is intended to let the families "address their own circumstances in their own way."

As I told a reporter: "By tying compensation to property values, the settlement ... appears to be an effort to buy residents outof their homes," rather than fixing the problem by restoring a clean drinking water supply that would allow these folks to stay in the community they call home.  Deeply troubling is the fact that wealthier affected homeowners would be paid more - based solely on the higher value of their homes - than less their less well-to-do neighbors for what is essentially the equivalent harm: deprivation of safe drinking water.

The Dimock families have vowed to continue on in their lawsuit against Cabot in the hopes that the judicial system will yield a more just resolution than that being offered by the state and repeat offender Cabot.