A 10-person jury in court on Thursday handed down a $4.2 million verdict—and vindication—to two Pennsylvania families who refused to settle in a case pitting homeowners in the village of Dimock against a Houston-based fossil fuels company.
After a two-week trial at the U.S. District Court in Scranton, the federal jury found that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., one of the largest natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania, had polluted the families’ well water.
As Common Dreams reported last month, neighbors Scott Ely and his wife, Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert were the only remaining litigants in a lawsuit that began in 2009 with more than 40 plaintiffs—most of whom settled in 2012.
According to news outlets, the Elys were awarded $2.6 million and their three children $50,000 each. The Huberts were awarded $1.4 million, with another family member awarded $50,000.
The verdict drew praise from anti-fracking activists including filmmaker Josh Fox, who featured Dimock’s brown, odorous, and flammable water in his documentary Gasland and told Greenwire that he was “overjoyed” by the news.
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“People say this was like David and Goliath,” he said. “Well, we just got a reminder of how that story ends.”
Still, the problem with fracking is much bigger than two families or one small town, said anti-fracking advocate and biologist Sandra Steingraber, science advisor for Americans Against Fracking.
“$4.2 million will not bring back drinkable well water to the long-suffering families of Dimock, Pennsylvania,” she told EcoWatch.
“No amount of money can do that,” Steingraber said. “Once groundwater is polluted, it’s polluted forevermore. But what this important jury decision does do is strip away the mirage of omnipotence that Cabot and other gas companies operate behind. Fracking poisons water. That’s what the science shows. The frackers will be held responsible. That’s what this court decision shows.”
Cabot Oil & Gas said Thursday it would appeal the ruling, accusing the jury of ignoring “overwhelming scientific and factual evidence that Cabot acted as a prudent operator in conducting its operations.”
But as EcoWatch reported, an NPR StateImpact report prior to the trial revealed that Cabot Oil & Gas had already accumulated more than 130 drilling violations at its Dimock wells, yet insisted that methane migration in Dimock’s water is naturally occurring. The company is currently banned from drilling in a 9-mile area of Dimock but is trying to lift the ban.