Quantcast

Judge Revokes $4.2 Million Award to Families in Fracking Contamination Case

Popular

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.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said the judge's decision is an attack on Pennsylvania residents who are being harmed by fracking.

"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

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less