This case study involves the chemical contamination of drinking water potentially related to the natural gas drilling process called “fracking” in Dimock, Pennsylvania.
Dimock, PA is a small, rural town located in Susquehanna County in the Northeastern region of Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale, a rock formation infused with natural gas, underlies this region. Gas companies use a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” where huge volumes of water, mixed with sand, chemicals and gels, are injected at high pressure to break the shale and allow natural gas to flow out. Fifteen families in Dimock, PA have sued Cabot Oil & Gas and seek a permanent injunctive order to ban the drilling processes blamed for contamination of their well water. The families claim that Cabot Oil contaminated their water wells with toxic chemicals and known carcinogens and had signed land leases with Cabot Oil & Gas Company in 2006.
The lawsuit states that they have suffered neurologic, gastrointestinal, and dermatologic symptoms from exposure to tainted water and seek compensatory damages in the form of a trust fund to cover their medical expenses. They also claim that they have had blood test results documenting exposure to heavy metals. Cabot’s drilling allowed methane to escape into private water wells, and in two cases, caused wellhead explosions due to gas build-up, according to the initial complaint filed by the plaintiffs with the court.
The homes of the families who brought the lawsuit are mostly centered on Carter Road and are within 1,300 feet of eight failed natural gas wells that caused methane to spew into the local aquifer, according to a report issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on November 4, 2009. Cabot Oil & Gas denies that its operations caused this to occur. Others in the community also allege that their water quality has been compromised.”
Of the fifteen families that claim to have contaminated well water due to natural gas drilling, Craig and Julie Saunter of Carter have been the most vocal in attracting media attention and environmental group allies such as the Sierra Club and the Actor Mark Ruffalo led Water Defense. A nine square mile moratorium on drilling in this area has been instated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection which prevents land owners and drillers in this area from benefiting from the present natural gas boom.