Justice finally on the horizon for Dimock victims

Residents of Dimock, PA who have been suffering the effects of gas drilling gone wrong may finally be getting some much-needed relief.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger announced yesterday that DEP was requiring the offending company, Cabot Oil and Gas, to pay $11.8 million to connect affected residents with a new municipal water pipeline. Dozens of homeowners have been relying on weekly deliveries of water from Cabot since its bad drilling practices contaminated the underground aquifer that feeds their water wells.

In making the announcement, Hanger stated: "We have had people here in Pennsylvania ... without safe drinking water for close to two years. That is totally, totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible."

This is welcome news, and demonstrates the seriousness with which the state regulators are now taking Cabot's misdeeds.  (Earlier this year, DEP hit Cabot with a series of fines and consent decrees, though it misguidedly subsequently lifted a ban on Cabot's drilling operations in the state.)

It also establishes an important precedent: when gas companies cut corners and ruin people's lives, they will pay the price. Because the oil and gas industry in this country enjoys more exemptions from environmental and other laws than any other industry in the world, this is an important first step to requiring companies to internalize the full costs of their operations, putting them somewhat closer to equal footing with other industries that are not exempt (including renewable energy).

This is surely not the end of the story as Cabot's comments suggest it will fight back against DEP's directive.  And residents still have a bevy of other gripes against the company - including strong-arm and dishonest leasing practices, loss of property value, and health impact claims - that will remain to be resolved through their pending lawsuit against the company.

Nonetheless, this is a very encouraging development, and kudos are due to the brave residents of Dimock who have stood up to Cabot, as well as the untiring team of lawyers and investigators who are helping them vindicate their rights.

In discouraging news, though, Cabot employees making water deliveries to Dimock residents have been accompanied of late by armed guards, who come onto their property and fail to identify themselves.  This is just the latest form of intimidation against innocent, peaceful people in what is becoming an extremely ugly trend - that includes government monitoring of non-violent activists - that must be made to end.