Dimock’s Shocking $4.24M Win Creates Hope For Pa.’s “Cooked” Water Complaints: Expert Witness Interview

Home / newsCOUP / Dimock’s Shocking $4.24M Win Creates Hope For Pa.’s “Cooked” Water Complaints: Expert Witness Interview

by Melissa Troutman for newsCOUP at Public Herald, follow @melissat22 @newscoup

Two Dimock, Pa. families who battled water contamination related to shale gas extraction – otherwise known as fracking – for nearly eight years won a $4.24 million nuisance verdict this week against Cabot Oil and Gas. As one of the highest profile water contamination cases in the United States, the ruling shocked plaintiffs, witnesses, and attorneys alike.

Dimock Pa. $4.24 Cabot Oil and Gas Victory
Dimock Pa. $4.24 Cabot Oil and Gas Victory

[left to right] Daughter of Ray Hubert, Elisabeth (Beth) Radow, Monica Marta-Ely (plaintiff), Scott Ely (plaintiff), Leslie Lewis (lead attorney), Ray Hubert (plaintiff), Lewis’s sister, and Victoria Hubert (plaintiff) stand together after a $4.24M nuisance victory against Cabot Oil and Gas for water contamination to their homes in Dimock, Pa. © Courtesy of Vera Scroggins

Why were they shocked? I spoke with Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a key expert witness in the trial, who said Cabot Oil & Gas “masterfully emasculated” evidence for the case.

“When this case began, it included water contamination, health impacts, loss of property value and nuisance. By the time Cabot’s attorney’s were done, the case was whittled down to nuisance,” Ingraffea said.

According to Ingraffea and others at the trial, no one was allowed to talk about the violations state regulators levied against Cabot, a total of 610 from 2009 to date, or anything contained in the four Consent Orders issued ordering Cabot O&G to replace contaminated water supplies.

“That means all documentation regarding water contamination, the moratorium on drilling inside a 9-mile square area where drinking water wells were polluted, and activities or problems at any other wells operated by Cabot besides the two gas wells implicated in this case – all of that evidence was forbidden,” Ingraffea explained.

“I even tried to use one of Cabot’s own maps of the contaminated area, showing where the company’s gas wells were in relations to drinking water wells. They wouldn’t let me use it.”

PADEP Cabot Complaince Report

You can access PA DEP’s Compliance Reports here. Select “Cabot Oil & Gas” under “Operator” and see for yourself that Cabot has amassed 610 violations since 2009, none of which were permitted as evidence in the Ely/Hubert Dimock trial.

The suppression of evidence is a reoccurring theme for oil and gas companies who mainly use ‘non-disclosure agreements’ to settle cases out of court. Pennsylvania oil and gas law Act 13 also allows for what boils down to gag orders, on doctors who treat patients for suspected health problems related to fracking development. Both eliminate transparency for public record on the development of shale gas. With Dimock’s case, it begs the question of how large the verdict would have been if all evidence appeared in the courtroom.

When I asked Ingraffea what role state and federal regulators involved in the case played, Ingraffea replied, “The agencies responsible for protecting people in these situations chose not to participate. That’s why the families had to sue in the first place.”

Dimock $4.24M Verdict
Dimock $4.24M Verdict

A jug of dirty water from Dimock, Pa. that residents say was caused by fracking. © SutainUS courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Showing you, dear reader, the controversial timeline of the Dimock case would take pages. Instead of rehashing Dimock’s history of being pummeled by industry and abandoned by state and federal government, let us put the corruption and negligence in Dimock’s case in context with thousands of other potential water contamination cases in Pennsylvania –  data that’s been covered up and ignored by PA DEP, US EPA, and mainstream media.

These cases are now available online courtesy of the #fileroom project (PublicFiles.org) and the investigative team at Public Herald. Read my editorial and oral testimony to US EPA about the agency ignoring thousands of water complaints.

The Dimock water contamination case began like most do – with a complaint. After Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), who regulates oil and gas in the Commonwealth, receives a complaint, an investigation begins. That’s how Dimock got started, but like Dimock, complaint cases are filled with twists and turns.

Pepper Family Complaint Investigation
Pepper Family Complaint Investigation

Carolyn Knapp tells Public Herald in 2014 how PADEP lied to her daughter’s family about the ‘presumption of liability’ law which would have made the gas company provide water during a month long complaint investigation. You can read her families story in Part 1 of 9 of the INVISIBLE HAND series. © Joshua B. Pribanic for Public Herald

When Public Herald first investigated Dimock files in 2011 asking for all complaint investigation records related to oil and gas development since fracking took hold in 2004, state regulators informed journalists Joshua Pribanic and myself that there was no aggregate of that data. Not taking no for an answer, it took our team over two years to collect the records. Today, here’s what that data looks like for an area like Dimock, Pa.:

Susquehanna County Pennsylvania Fracking Complaints 
Susquehanna County Pennsylvania Fracking Complaints

Susquehanna Co. Complaint Map by Public Herald & FracTracker Alliance. Contamination complaints are mapped by township – Dimock is the dark red block in the bottom left quadrant.

When we did finally get the records, we published a groundbreaking complaint report that discovered the number of contamination cases listed by PA DEP is far too low.

After analyzing 200 cases, Public Herald found nine ways that PA DEP ignores water contamination, leaving it “off the books.” As soon as Public Herald released its complaint investigation, along with 2,309 cases across Pennsylvania mapped by county and township, Dr. Ingraffea took up the data and used it to illustrate issues related to his own research.

“The release of these records is invaluable. Mapping them shows where the threat of pollution is greatest, and many of these cases need to be reexamined” Dr. Ingraffea said of Public Herald’s report back in September 2015.

Since Dimock’s verdict has dropped, the complaint investigation records at PublicFiles.org and the analysis by investigative journalists at Public Herald are more valuable than ever. There are hundreds more cases of water contamination Governor Tom Wolf and his PADEP secretary, John Quigley, need to be transparent about and address immediately. The truth is in the complaint records, the trouble is getting PADEP and industry to have enough integrity to look at it.

Dr. Tony Ingraffea Fracking Complaint Maps
Dr. Tony Ingraffea Fracking Complaint Maps

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea points to a map of Bradford County, Pennsylvania pollution complaints created by Public Herald and FracTracker Alliance using data from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Ingraffea is speaking on spatial density impacts on water well contamination related to fracking. See the map and 520 complaint records at PublicFiles.org.

Pennsylvania Governors Rendell, Corbett and now Tom Wolf have praised fracking as a cash cow for the Commonwealth. And no one likes to look a cash cow in the mouth, especially when it’s been drinking contaminated water. (See John Platt’s piece about contaminated cows from 2012, or Pro Publica’s 2009 story.)

But someone’s gotta do it. Someone has to have the courage and integrity like these two Dimock families who said, “enough is enough.”

Joshua B. Pribanic contributed to this newsCOUP, follow @jbpribanic

newsCOUPare stories, photographs, videos from ongoing investigations in the Public Herald newsroom.

Record of Dimock Trial Verdict courtesy of Vera Scroggins

  • ZAGeorge

    Well done, Melissa. Shame on PADEP and EPA.

  • You all are awesome! Thank you for all you do! Trouble is getting people in media to cover the story…it is impossible to get the story in the news! MSNBC has no trouble covering the water crisis in Flint because it was caused by a Republican governor and legislators. Massive water contaminations in PA by their sponsor’s …not so much. Just look at all the stupid Energy Voter commercials they run…can’t bite the hañd that feeds!
    Even as far back as Ridge, Pa’s governor’s leave office and go to work for the oil and gas industry.

  • FrackmanGasser

    Will you also show the video of Ingraffia hiding behind a woman’s coat as he left the courtroom after testifying? He had to admit, under oath, that everything he said about the Ely case was only speculation, and that he had NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE looked at any of the physical evidence that would have been required to substantiate his supposed ‘expert’ testimony. And as to the Ely contention that Cabot was to blame for their well, the Elys had told their attorney and others that their problems began in July of 2008, several months before the well in question was spudded. Their attorney even stated in her opening arguments that this was not about toxins in the well – a clear admission that the charges of contamination could not be supported. The judge thew out the claim that they had suffered property damages due to lack of evidence; indeed, they had built their million dollar mansion after claiming the property had decreased in value.

    I also see you have Mark Ruffalo as an honorary member. He’s a well-known activist, so this severely damages your credibility as an honest source of information.

    • Hope Forpeace

      You may have missed that most of the evidence was disallowed.
      Dimock is a well know verified water contamination area. As the 9 mile moratorium on Caabot Drillin/fracking tetstifies.

      • FrackmanGasser

        Ah yes, Hope, the broken record with the 9 mile moratorium. From the EPA, one of the most failed, dangerous orgs. The one who breached a mine, flooded a river with toxins including lead and arsenic, then claimed all is good.

        The judge disallowed evidence because the losers waited until the last minute to submit a pile of disorganized stuff. If they had anything real, why did they wait 6 1/2 years to put it together?

        • Hope Forpeace

          Wow. You’re a real jerk – how sad for you. You also babble.
          If you come up with a valid point, get back to me.

        • The_White_Rabbit

          Why did USEPA not release a final report yet? Why did Cabot not do a normal vapor intrusion investigation? Why won’t USEPA admit that a leaked powerpoint stating short and long term groundwater damage is(or is not) an official document?

          The USEPA did not create any of those incidents. It was the the industry involved possibly with lack of oversight by Federal and State regulators.

    • Glen Etzkorn

      your dunce hat very likely explains your foolish stupid remarks.

      • FrackmanGasser

        As Andrew ‘Dunce’ Cuomo, I thank you!

  • Hope Forpeace

    Super reporting! Thanks so much for your work!