Energy. Environment. Economy.

Battleground Dimock property sold, deed bars owners from building home there

Craig and Julie Sautner

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Craig and Julie Sautner

No one will ever live at 1101 Carter Road in Dimock again.

The 3.6-acre property is one of 18 in the Susquehanna County village where state environmental regulators in 2009 traced methane contamination in the water supplies back to faulty natural gas wells drilled by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.

The last residents, Craig and Julie Sautner, were once outspoken critics of natural gas development. As part of a confidential settlement that ended their part in a bitter lawsuit against the company, the Sautners sold their property to Susquehanna Real Estate I Corp., a Cabot subsidiary, for $167,500 in August 2012 and moved out of the state. Last month, Cabot had the home demolished, leaving the lot largely empty save for a yard sign for Dimock Proud, a community group that supports natural gas drilling and promotes a positive image of the township’s environment.

Now, Cabot has sold the property, minus the oil and gas rights, to a neighboring family for $4,000. The deed stipulates that a home can never be built on the parcel: No building, according to the deed’s careful conditions, “shall be erected as or for or used or occupied as a residence or dwelling for human habitation.” The restriction applies “forever.”

The deed allows for a barn, garage, pool, outbuilding or driveway to be placed on the lot. It also carries a permanent easement that allows Cabot to access the water well on the property “for the purpose of inspection, water sampling, maintenance, and repairs.”

The sale price is much lower than the property’s fair market value, according to county assessment data the Department of Environmental Protection used in 2010 to calculate payments Cabot owed to families as part of an agreement to restore or replace contaminated water supplies. At that time, the fair market value of the land was listed at $22,000 and the building, now demolished, was valued at an additional $111,000. The fraction of the property’s value used to assess taxes on the land alone was $7,600 – nearly double the amount for which Cabot just sold it. Property assessments in Pennsylvania do not include the value of oil and gas rights.

Cabot spokesman George Stark declined to comment on the sale. At the time of the demolition last month, he spoke to Tom Wilber who writes the blog Shale Gas Review:

“I placed a call to Cabot spokesman George Stark, who told me that the company had a potential buyer for the land and that it was more marketable without the house.  Stark said he did not know if the land would be developed, and could not offer other details.”

Cabot has long denied that its operations damaged Dimock’s water supplies and has worked to make the case that any contamination in the township’s water wells occurs naturally or predated its drilling. It has also committed to removing methane from the water supplies and fixing any structural issues with its gas wells in order to comply with its agreement with DEP.

The neighbors who bought the property, Tim and Debbie Maye, were also among the families whose water supplies the state found to be affected by Cabot’s operations. Although the family initially voiced concerns about natural gas development in their community, they later welcomed the company’s help. Cabot reconditioned their water well, installed a sophisticated water treatment system and paid them twice the value of their property as part of its consent settlement with DEP. In late 2011, when celebrities and activists crowded into the Sautners’ front yard to deliver water and demand a federal investigation, the Mayes hosted an opposing rally and press conference for drilling supporters in their driveway next door.

The Mayes declined to comment on their purchase of the Carter Road property except to say it “isn’t a story at all.”


  • hmontaigne

    Sounds like somebody made out like bandits, but it wasn’t the Sautners.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Plutocracy rules in the Commonwealth.

  • FrackDaddy

    But the Epa and every other agency said there was nothing wrong with the water…(its a fact check it) you can even see how upset the Saunters are to have CLEAN water. This was simply giving the saunters what they wanted all along….Money! And as a resident of Susquehanna County we are glad to be rid of them!

    • JoanneCorey

      For those who would like to delve into the history of water contamination at this site, found both by PA DEP and the EPA, as well as private labs, please see this blog post by journalist/author Tom Wilber: . He has researched and written extensively about these issues and the blog post has many live links to sources of his material. Note: this post was written before the sale of the land to the adjacent property owners.

      • Southsideadvenger

        Joanne, Just cause it is on the internet does not mean its true. First the water pipeline was stopped by the people of dimiock (who yes do receive royalties, as all of us do in this part of the state). By a Gov that was elected by the people of the state of Pennsylvania, because WE want a Gov on board with us! Second the Saunters could produce “brown” water from one of there never ending jugs, Never from a tap inside or outside the house. Third the DEC or EPA never found there water to be contaminated (you can find copy’s of the results on their web sites). Even check youtube for the EPA giving the Saunters the test results. Why are they upset to have clean water? Fourth the Saunters got fair market value at best, its them cutting there losses and leaving their neighbors high and dry. They were shunned by the community made out to be the phonies they are! On a side note, pick up a science book and that reading thing. You find out that your body will not absorb methane and it will do no real harm, Ask any of us that have had it in out wells our whole lives……Ever Fart? Methane (after you watch the saunters upset about their clean water check out lighting farts! Methane baby!)

        • JoanneCorey

          Sorry, but PADEP not only found contaminated water at homes on Carter Rd but also held Cabot responsible. John Hanger personally travelled to Dimock and said so. Video available on YouTube. Whatever happened after that for political reasons does not change that.

          It’s true that methane is not poisonous to ingest, but it does present dangers when in a household water supply. The methane leaves the water, especially when it is heated. When the concentration builds up in the air inside the home, it can cause symptoms ranging from nausea to loss of consciousness and presents a risk of explosion. The water was also contaminated with heavy metals, which are toxic, especially over time as they bioaccumulate.

          It is true that one cannot believe everything on the Internet, but Tom Wilber is one of the most prominent and respected journalists writing on Marcellus shale issues. Anyone who reads the post will find it factual and well-referenced.

        • RealNEPA

          You wrote (who yes do receive royalties, as all of us do in this part of the state). I live in this part of the state near DIMOCK and I do not receive royalties and I know many others who do not.

  • frackedup

    The entire situation is disgusting and most of the people who allowed these companies onto their land without doing their scientific research have been and will continue to be very very sorry that they did.

  • William Huston

    Cabot spent $167,500, plus $25,000 to have the home demolished, then sold it for $4,000. Huh?

    Q: Why did Cabot purchase the home to begin with? A: Because the water is fine.
    Q: Why did Cabot try to hide the purchase with a shell corporation? A: Because the water is fine.
    Q: Why did Cabot spend nearly $190k total to destroy a perfectly good house, only to sell an empty lot for a loss? A: Because the water is fine!

    • Bob Nix

      Let me offer an alternate answer to each of your questions.
      1) Why did Cabot purchase the home to begin with?
      A: Because less than $200,000 is an insignificant amount of money to Cabot (or their subsidiaries), but continued bad press (deserved or not) is endlessly damaging.
      2) Why did Cabot try to hide the purchase with a shell corporation?
      A: Susquehanna Real Estate Corp is not a shell corporation, it is simply another business owned by Cabot. Cabot Oil and Gas has no business buying private homes, whereas that is part of SREC’s business model.
      3) Why did Cabot spend less than $200,000 to destroy a perfectly good house, only to sell an empty lot for a loss?
      A: See question #1. It’s an insignificant amount of money, versus continued bad press. Cabot did it for the same reason lots of people and companies (guilty or not) settle lawsuits: to make it go away. It is often cheaper and easier to pay someone off than to deal with bad press, whether it is deserved or not.
      But since you brought up the subject, I think I have a pair of better questions for you.
      Q1) Why are the next door neighbors still living there?
      Q2) Why did the next door neighbors buy the property?
      In the case of these two questions, the answer is clearly NOT as I have provided above. These people had no motivation to cave to bad press, and clearly if the water were bad (as you sarcastically imply) they could have taken a similar buy-out as their departed neighbors. Instead not only did they remain, but they doubled-down by purchasing the additional property. Obviously they believe things are fine, and are not worried about resale.
      So on the one hand, we have a corporation with perfectly reasonable motivations (other than bad water) to buy and dump the property, and on the other hand we have private citizens with absolutely no reason to settle for contaminated property who stayed and bought the extra land. Hmm.

  • FractivistKoolAid

    Meanwhile after having such a horrible experience with the gas company the Sautner’s did what any family would do. They bought a house in New York with an oil and gas lease in place. That little detail was missed here but makes perfect sense given their experience, especially considering the family claimed it was putting their children’s health at risk. I’m pretty sure all of us would be quick to buy a new house with an oil and gas lease if we had the experiences the Sautners claimed they did.

  • Brian Oram

    A well by well review of Dimock, PA –

  • Vera Scroggins

    DEP has never said that the Dimock Contamination is over and has never said that the water is safe to drink; call up the DEP and find out this fact; There is new water contamination in Dimock, Springville, Brooklyn, since 2013 …..and a leaking gas well off Carter Rd….and Debbie Maye continues to feature a manure spreader with effigies of the Sautner Family and grave stones , which is a horrible way to portray a family who suffered water contamination and had the courage to the tell the world ……

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