US families win fracking contamination case

12 Mar 2016


A US federal jury ruled on Thursday that Cabot Oil & Gas Co must pay more than $4.2 million in damages to two families in north-eastern Pennsylvania who said the company's fracking operations contaminated their ground water.

Six jurors in federal court in Scranton awarded $1.3 million each to Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, a married couple in Dimock. Each of their three children received an award of $50,000.

A second couple, Ray and Victoria Hubert, also of Dimock, about 50 km south of Binghamton, New York, each received $720,000, and their daughter Hope was awarded $50,000.

"This has been an exhausting 6-1/2 years," Scott Ely said after the verdict.

He said Cabot fought hard and "boxed them in", limiting the evidence his pro bono attorney, Leslie Lewis, could introduce, or what Ely could say in testimony.

 "They are an arrogant company that bullies their way to what they want," Ely said. "If they had just done the right thing, it would have been so much easier for them."

Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company was surprised by the verdict, and again asserted there was no evidence linking contamination of the Ely and Hubert wells to their fracking operations.

"Cabot will be filing motions with the court to set the verdict aside based on the lack of evidence as well as conduct of plaintiff's counsel calculated to deprive Cabot of a fair trial," he said.

The Elys and Huberts were the last of more than 40 families who had sued Cabot. They alleged that their water was contaminated with methane gas after the company began using the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract gas from underground shale formations near Dimock in 2008.

The other families settled with the company in 2012.

"We haven't had clean water since he was in kindergarten," said Monica Marta-Ely, referring to her 13-year-old son, Jared, before the trial began.

The family's lawyer, Lewis, accused Cabot of "reckless disregard" for the families' safety.

Dimock gained notoriety in the 2010 documentary "Gasland" by Josh Fox. It showed local residents lighting their tap water on fire because of the high amount of methane it contained.

Stephen Dillard, a lawyer for Cabot, argued in court that the methane occurred naturally and was not caused by the company's drilling operations. He contended that the ground water, while aesthetically displeasing, was safe to drink.

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