Pennsylvania families win $4.2 million damages in fracking lawsuit

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 10, 2016 2:16 PM

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A federal jury ruled on Thursday that Cabot Oil & Gas Co must pay more than $4.2 million in damages to two families in northeastern Pennsylvania who said the company’s fracking operations contaminated their ground water.

Six jurors in federal court in Scranton awarded $1.3 million each to Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, a married couple in Dimock. Each of their three children received an award of $50,000.

A second couple, Ray and Victoria Hubert, also of Dimock, about 32 miles (50 km) south of Binghamton, New York, each received $720,000, and their daughter Hope was awarded $50,000.

The families had no immediate reaction but were seen thanking jurors after the verdict in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which came after 13 days of testimony.

Cabot had no immediate comment but spokesman George Stark said the company was preparing a statement.

The Elys and Huberts were the last of more than 40 families who had sued Cabot. They alleged that their water was contaminated with methane gas after the company began using the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract gas from underground shale formations near Dimock in 2008.

The other families settled with the company in 2012.

“We haven’t had clean water since he was in kindergarten,” said Monica Marta-Ely, referring to her 13-year-old son, Jared, before the trial began.

The family's lawyer, Leslie Lewis, accused Cabot of “reckless disregard” for the families’ safety.

Dimock was made infamous in the 2010 documentary “Gasland” by Josh Fox. It showed local residents lighting their tap water on fire because of the high amount of methane it contained.

Stephen Dillard, a lawyer for Cabot, argued in court that the methane occurred naturally and was not caused by the company’s drilling operations. He contended that the ground water, while aesthetically displeasing, was safe to drink.

(Editing By Frank McGurty; Editing by Frances Kerry)