Energy. Environment. Economy.

Chesapeake to Pay $1.6 Million for Contaminating Water Wells in Bradford County

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennslyvania

Chesapeake has a large presence in Bradford County. A billboard touts the gas company's support of a local hospital.

Chesapeake Energy has agreed  to pay $1.6 million in damages to three families in Wyalusing, Bradford County. The case may be the first Marcellus contamination lawsuit to get resolved without a nondisclosure agreement, meaning the parties can speak freely about the case. Todd O’Malley, an attorney for two of the families, says the plaintiffs insisted on not signing a confidentiality agreement.

“They wanted the public to know what the settlement was about,” says O’Malley.

O’Malley says the majority of gas drilling related cases get settled without any public disclosure, including the causes of the contamination, or the health impacts.

“I think the nondisclosure form is probably the worst form,” says O’Malley. “It’s referred to as ‘toxic secrets.’ The public deserves to know.”

The families, living along Paradise Road, all signed leases with Chesapeake Appalachia to drill beneath their land. But in July, 2010, the residents began to notice muddy water coming from their water wells.  Chesapeake supplied a filtration system, which residents say did not work. O’Malley says his investigators concluded that a poor cement job resulted in methane migrating from the Marcellus Shale formation into the water supply of nearby residents.

Scott and Cassie Spencer, Heather and Jared McMicken, and Michael and Jonna Phillips filed suit in the Middle U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania, which was sent to arbitration. Three days of testimony took place before an arbitration panel in Philadelphia this week, precipitating the two parties reaching an agreement on Thursday.

O’Malley says all three families signed leases that forced any dispute into arbitration, which typically leads to smaller financial settlements than jury trials.

“They deserved much more money,” said O’Malley. “With what they went through, you couldn’t pay them enough. But this is enough to get them out and into new homes.”

Chesapeake also agreed to buy the homes from the families, which is included in the $1.6 million. But the company says their drilling practices did not cause methane migration. In a written statement, Chesapeake says no pre-drill water tests were conducted at these homes, which leaves open the question of whether the methane was present before drilling occurred.

“The PA Department of Environmental Protection currently recommends pre-drill testing within a 2,500-foot radius of any oil or gas drilling operation, and Chesapeake meets or exceeds that recommendation with its testing.

All of these water sources are beyond that testing radius, and thus Chesapeake had not collected pre-drill data for the water sources.”

The statement goes on to say that the pre-drill testing done in other area homes showed methane contamination before any drilling activity took place.

Chesapeake operates almost 200 wells in Pennsylvania, most are in Bradford County. The company has racked up about 190 violations and paid about $1.2 million in fines. The wells that residents say caused the water contamination along Paradise Road are the Welles 1 3H and the Welles 1 5H.



  • Timothy R. Ruggiero

    So, CHK pays out some serious coin for contamination but their only statement is that they didn’t cause any contamination? I guess when you’re billions in the hole, paying out $1.6M is pocket change. What’s more interesting is that no Non-Disclosure Agreement was signed-and if the affected families are saying they refused to sign one, that means that CHK wanted it signed.I hope the affected families find some peace.

  • Norenforsenate

    Lets see if this gets unposted. Chesapeake donated PAC money to Senator Gillibrand. Senator Gillibrand won’t sign on to a federal ban on fracking. Case closed.

  • Richard Book

    It is a great start to making these companies pay up for the damage they cause. Fracking is the worst thing to come to Pa. since Gov. Corbett was elected.

    • Jsimmons

       Failed casing or cement has NOTHING to do with fracing (yes this is how it is spelled)

      • VAppalachia1

        So the failed casings were there for no reason?  If industrial gas development was not taking place near the plaintiffs’ property—completed with a “poor cement job” as determined by the judge, would this problem have occurred? 

        Come on.  We know industry supporters never miss a chance to flog the “never been an instance of contamination from fracking” (my spelling choice, not industry’s) horse.  You got your points for the day.  But you need to remember the results of the EPA’s investigation of contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, where fracking (my spelling) components were found in the water. 

      • Seafins

        Jsimmons is only talking about ONE PART of the entire process for the extraction of gas, which is what industry experts do – the fracing process refers to the one part having to do with the actual breaking of the shale. Beware those who consider only the technical term “fracing” for the
        actual breaking of the shale versus the general public’s understanding
        as the name “fracking” for the entire process, including the injection
        of the “slick water” fracing solution, and it’s withdrawal. The entire drilling and gas extraction process, which the general public thinks of when they hear the term “fracking” DOES have to do with the casing. So if casings fail for the conveyance of the solution and extraction of the gas then the gas and the fracking solution can migrate into drinking water. Google engineer Tony Ingraffea.

      • BobSchmetzer

        Failed casings has the same effect on personal water systems. It adds methane bubbles into drinking water. Explodes pump houses.Dimmock, Pa.  Explodes homes, Bradford Pa. Explodes wells, multiple sites in Pa. In WVA a well  fire burnt for a week alongside RT 70. Explodes compressor stations. Who cares how it is spelled. What are you doing to educate yourself on the dangers and the shoddy work of the contractors. Have you checked PaDEP website under oil & gas.  Pro-Publica or other independent sites?  

      • Scott Cannon

        Contamination is contamination. Fracking is just one part of the whole process, and if you look at the whole process, the whole process is causing contamination. If you shoot yourself in the foot, do you just blame the pin hitting the bullet that caused the hole in your foot, not the person who pulled the trigger?

      • Teri Tripp-Lanciault

        In the English language,I believe a K would be put in to harden the C…otherwise, would we not say “tracking paper” for tracing paper? Besides, fracking is a perfectly accepted word to replace the more cumbersome “fracturing”. Find a real reason to gripe.

        • Jred83

          How would you spell vacuum to shorten it? Is it vack or vac? Just sayin’

  • OneAmerican

    Not signing a gag order is very important and generous, we thank you.  No doubt they left alot of money on the table to do what they felt was right.  Ohio requires zero pre-testing of water in non-urban areas.  Once again we see why, it (typically) gives the industry an easy way out.

    • Mike Knapp

      I’m so sick of hearing about non-disclosure agreements and the supposed boogie man that is hiding behind them.  Now that there is a settlement without one, I hope that folks will notice that there isn’t anything of any interest, other than the monetary terms, that wasn’t already public information.  The investigation, and all of the results of the investigation, are not hidden or secret in any way, shape, or form.  Gas companies don’t want other people to get the idea of “hey, I have methane in my water..its been there for years but hey, maybe if I sue CHK, they’ll just settle with me out of court for a six figure paycheck like they did with those other folks!”  Companies aren’t hiding anything.  They aren’t refusing to give folks replacement water if they don’t sign one. 

      Same thing with the Hallowiches down in Washington County.  They had their settlement sealed, but the entire DEP investigation was (of course) public information.  

      • BobSchmetzer

        You don’t know the Hallowich’s. You don’t know what they went through. PaDEP is not the final word either. When your home is destroyed , your water spoiled, you fear for your life every day in your home, your kids can not go outside to play without getting nosebleeds from fugitive gasses, when there is a bad storm and the electric goes out, the compressor stations quit running and the pop off valves vent excessive gasses, you are sitting in the dark with your kids praying that lightning dosn’t explode the gasses, then make statements about people. Paying $500.00 a month to bring in water won’t help sell a home. I hope people like you who don’t know would take the time to think , how much of that would I put up with.

        • Mike Knapp

          The only thing that I said about the Hallowich’s was that the DEP investigation of their contamination accusations were made public…  which it was.  Why are you jumping down my throat?

  • Gloria

    CHK shells out major $ for contamination they say they didn’t cause… next thing you know they’ll be telling us the sky is pink.

    • Terry L Grange

      pink sky, i like it

    • Tracy

       If everything goes the way they have been with all this contamination, the sky just may turn pink!

  • Woodysan831

    I am personally against fracking but I am simply amazed that with all the negative reports we hear about fracking that these greedy people leased their land so fracking can continue in the hopes of “getting rich quick” dreams, then when the fracking causes their well water to become contaminated they are quick to sue! Do they not understand the process of “Fracking”?? and if not, they should of done their research before becoming so greedy.

    • Tina

      I agree, too many people see the dollar signs and do not see anything else.  Many of the issues in this area were here prior to the gas industry.  The Dimock, PA issue with people being able to set their water from the faucet on fire happened 20+ years ago, but now they want to blame it on the gas industry.  If you do not believe me, research the local papers,  the Rocket had an artical on it many years prior to the gas industry moving in.  Too many people are listening to the media and not doing their own research.  We have 3 wells near our home that Chesapeake drilled, and their have been 0 incidences or complaints.  They are a safe company.  I do not work for any gas company, but I cannot see them getting blamed for problems that were here before they arrived.

      • Shazam

        Chesapeake has already brought Statoil from Norway in on percentages in Pa. and Chesapeake has brought Cnooc from China in for percentages on other deals. Do your homework people. The comments about the landowners being greedy were funny. Some landowners signed for 49. an acre with royalty percntages that didn’t even meet Pa’s minimum requirement. Many have not received any money from any royalties. McClendon sold maps to his own company for millions and the landowners are the greedy ones?

        • Shazam

          Made up example: Lets say that someone signed somewhere in the middle at $3000. an acre. They were pressed by the fork tongued landmen to sign the three page lease. Earlier leases took drilling cost out of the landowners royalties before they receive anything. They own only 5 acres. So they received $15,000. for signing. They might have around 12% royalties. But nobody is getting paid until the pipelines are run. The state takes their percentage out of the 15k. So they might get around 12k. Then the gas company does screw up and contaminates the water while also contaminating the air during the chemical and gas burn off. How are the landowners supposed to live with poisoned water? Just think about how many times a day you use water. Cooking, washing, pets, brush teeth, drinking, clothes, garden, kids playing, livestock, etc… It’s also not just the gas in the water. It’s also the chemicals in the water. Cancer causing poisons. Where is anyone going to buy a new property for $12000.? If these truly are your neighbors, don’t talk too soon. You may be next. The gas and chemicals migrate over time. It’s not an instant thing. But anyway, the landowners are the greedy ones? Right? The only landowners that will really make out well are the ones with hundreds of acres. They can eventually afford to move. How many can’t? Then the gas company always says that they didn’t do it.

  • Ann Dixon

    Thank you, Susan Phillips, for your continued reporting of fracking!  We need a moratorium on drilling at least untill the EPA’s cumulative impact study has been completed. 

  • Marigrace Butela

    The only way to stop the contamination of water and air is through filing lawsuits.  The more lawsuits, the more money the industry must pay out.  The more money the industry pays out, the more nervous investors get.  The ,more nervous investors get, the more the stock price falls.  Bring on the lawsuits!!!! 

    • Tina

      And the more foreign companies get to purchase our companies!  Come on, don’t we want our American companies drilling instead of China who does not care what they do to our land!!!!!  Look how they make lead based items for our babies, why would they care if they contaminate our soil?  Chesapeake works hard on safety, but not every component is going to be error free.  How many times have you purchased a new product that did not work?  There are always malfunctioning parts no matter what area it is in.  Nothing is ever 100% error free.  We cannot let the foreign countries take over like they are.  Teach our children education is a must, respect everyone else, and care about our environment, and we will have a better country.  Money is not everything, but our environment is.  Those other countries are waiting to see us fail so they can take over.  We are the weak country now because we do not teach our children the importance in life, but we give them everything and teach them that everything should be handed to them.  The countries that are becoming stronger than we are, are the ones where the people have suffered, and they want a better life.  Keep hurting an American owned company with bad reviews, and when a foreign company buys this American made company because biased media destroyed it, you get what you deserve because foreign countries will not care as much as the American Chesapeake company does!!!!  Quit listening to media and do your own research.  I live in Bradford County and have a good friend who grew up on Paradise Road.  He stated, that way before the gas industry ever even thought of moving in the area, they could not drink their water.  Chesapeake is trying to be good to these people and should not have even had to pay a penny to them, but they did.

  • Eric Ryan

    They don’t have pre-drilling data, so they just think that the muddy, methane water was there before? so those residents were living off of contaminated water and just decided to sue chesapeake once they moved in because they could? I don’t think so. of course it’s from drilling. it’s a slap in the face to even hear them say they can’t prove it was them. keep up to date with news articles on marcellus shale drilling at

  • Randal Mick

    For the guy that says cement and casing has nothing to do with it. YOURE WRONG. The cement  and casing is the only thing protecting us from caustic soda, corrosion inhibitors, oil and water based drilling fluids, radioactive flowback chemically tainted water. Not to mention the soap used with air drilling to slick the hole, build wall cake, and create enough viscosity to carry cutting out. Cement and casing are the barriers that prevent all of these things from reaching water tables and formations during both drilling and frack. I would hope the integrity of these barriers is good, strong, stable and thick. This is why there are various types of logs that can be performed to check.

  • Sick of it in Bulger

    my water was clean fresh spring water, until a certain company came in and started moving the earth and top soil for the pipelines to come thru and now my water is contaminated with ecoli and another bacteria from the runoff from my neighbors farm. Does anyone else have this problem? My water is now brown. Help

  • Vera Scroggins

    there was a second attorney/firm with this case; does anyone know who they are?? thanks,

  • pvwizard

    I hope this case serves as a positive lesson for all of us. Hope it also motivate the frackers to self-regulate better.

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