The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Judge Revokes $4.2 Million Award to Families in Fracking Contamination Case
A federal judge has reversed last year's unanimous jury decision that awarded $4.2 million to two Dimock, Pennsylvania families who claimed that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp contaminated their water supply during fracking operations near their homes.
In a ruling released on Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson said the amount of the jury's award was unjustified and that the evidence presented by the families "was spare, sometimes contradictory, frequently rebutted by other scientific expert testimony and relied in some measure upon tenuous inferences."
The Pennsylvania judge declined Cabot's request to rule completely in its favor, ordering a new federal trial instead. But he insisted that the parties try to reach a settlement before initiating fresh litigation.
Last year's decision was hailed as a landmark victory by fracking opponents. The case dates back to 2009 when 44 plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the company. Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert were the only plaintiffs remaining on the case.
The rural community's fight against the controversial drilling method was featured in the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland.
A state investigation found that Cabot had allowed gas to escape into the region's groundwater supplies, contaminating at least 18 residential water wells. But the company insisted that methane migration in Dimock's water is naturally occurring and the problems in the water wells pre-dated Cabot's arrival.
According to State Impact, the judge's ruling cited the plaintiffs' own admission that their water became contaminated before drilling took place at the affected wells.
Judge Carlson supported Cabot's argument that the plaintiffs' case "crumbles at the very issue of causation" because the water problems existed before the company broke ground on the wells in Sept. 2008.
Plaintiffs' attorney Leslie L. Lewis described the decision as "another dark chapter for the victims of oil and gas contamination."
"It is not clear to me why the court required an entire year to essentially rubber-stamp defendants' position that they were somehow robbed of a fair trial," she told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lewis said she has not decided whether to appeal the decision.
Cabot spokesman George Stark applauded the judge's ruling.
"Cabot felt confident that once a thorough review of the overwhelming scientific evidence and a full legal analysis of the conduct of the plaintiff's counsel was conducted, the flaws in the verdict would be understood," he said in a statement.
"This judge's decision is one more attack on the health and safety of families of Pennsylvania who have suffered real and substantial harms due to the greed of the fracking corporations operating in their state," Hauter said. "These residents, and thousands of others, have been abandoned by state environmental regulators, politicians and a governor who promised to help them. Oil and gas fracking will continue to create additional disasters, in Pennsylvania and anywhere else."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.