Pennsylvania

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Federal trial begins in the case of Dimock’s water contamination

Gas drilling in Dimock has drawn both national and international attention. Here, actor Mark Ruffalo attends a rally in the village after the DEP decided Cabot could end free water deliveries.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gas drilling in Dimock has drawn both national and international attention. Here, actor Mark Ruffalo attends a rally in the village after the DEP decided Cabot could end free water deliveries in December 2011. Most of the original plaintiffs in the case against Cabot have settled with the company, including Craig Sautner, who stands to the right of Ruffalo.

Jury selection begins today in U.S. District Court in Scranton for a fracking contamination case that put the village of Dimock in the crosshairs of the debate over shale gas drilling. Only four plaintiffs remain of the original 44 who filed suit back in 2009. The others have settled with the company, Cabot Oil and Gas.

Dimock’s water contamination stretches back to the Rendell Administration, when the explosion of a shed on New Year’s Day in 2009 provided the first evidence of water mixed with dangerously high levels of methane. The small village in Susquehanna County gained notoriety when it was featured in the popular anti-fracking documentary Gasland. State regulators concluded that Cabot Oil and Gas had built faulty wells.

The company has wracked up more than 130 drilling violations at its Dimock wells, but insists the methane migration in Dimock’s residential water wells is naturally occurring, pointing to tests taken after drilling had been halted in the area. Cabot remains barred from drilling in a nine mile area of Dimock.

DEP’s Deputy Secretary of the Office of Oil and Gas Management, Scott Perry, says Cabot has attempted to get the agency to lift the drilling ban.

“Until they have demonstrated they are in compliance with the law, that the gas migration is over, they will not be permitted to drill in the nine-square mile area,” Perry told StateImpact.

Cabot did not respond to requests for comment.

The original complaint included personal injuries related to health impacts and environmental damage, but most of them were tossed by U.S. District Chief Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson. What remains are property and nuisance claims.

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