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Pennsylvania Jury Awards Two Families $4.24 Million in Fracking Lawsuit

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A Pennsylvania jury has awarded two families $4.24 million in a fracking lawsuit that has been ongoing for nearly seven years.

The Hubert and Ely families claimed that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, which has been drilling in northeast Pennsylvania since 2008, contaminated their well water with methane. The two families were the last of 40 that sued Cabot over claims of methane contamination in Dimock township. The others settled with the company in 2012.

Jury Compensates Families for Contaminated Water

The federal jury ordered Cabot to pay $1.3 million to the Ely’s, as well as $50,000 to each of their three children. An additional $720,000 was awarded to each of the Huberts, with an additional $50,000 to their daughter.

Cabot began drilling in shale formations near Dimock in 2008, and shortly after that, the families alleged that their water was contaminated. Though Cabot insisted the methane was naturally occurring and not the result of their fracking operation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013 concluded that drilling for natural gas had caused “significant damage” to drinking water aquifers in the area.

According to an EPA report, the process of fracking, which involves forcing sand and chemicals underground to release trapped natural gas, had caused methane to leak into the domestic water wells. An EPA slide show explained that methane was released during the drilling, and perhaps during the fracking process and other gas well work. The EPA also reported that more study was needed.

Dimock is the same are that was featured in the documentary “Gasland,” as an area that had been negatively affected by the industry.

EPA Report Identifies Vulnerabilities in Fracking

Gas production in Pennsylvania has skyrocketed over the past few years. The “Marcellus Shale,” as it’s called, is about 5,000 feet down, leaving drilling as the only way to access the natural gas. While companies have stepped up their production, families have become more concerned about potential contamination.

In 2015, the EPA released a study stating that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water supplies in isolated incidents, but had not caused widespread, systematic damage to water resources. At the same time, they identified a series of “vulnerabilities” created by fracking, including groundwater contamination and inadequate well cementing that could allow the migration of gas and liquids into drinking water aquifers.

Following the report, John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, stated that the department would be strengthening oversight to reduce these vulnerabilities in the Marcellus Shale region.

Despite the recent jury verdict, Cabot continues to assert that the methane was not the result of their fracking, and has promised to file motions to have the verdict set aside.