Pennsylvania families win $4.24M verdict against gas driller

SCRANTON, Pa. — A federal jury awarded two couples nearly $4.25 million on Thursday after finding one of the largest natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania polluted their well water.

The verdict came at the end of a bitter and long-running federal lawsuit pitting homeowners in the village of Dimock against Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

Dimock was the scene of the most highly publicized case of methane contamination to emerge from the early days of Pennsylvania’s natural-gas drilling boom. State regulators blamed faulty gas wells drilled by Cabot for leaking combustible methane into Dimock’s groundwater. Cabot claimed the methane was naturally occurring.

The rural community became a national battleground in environmental activists’ fight against fracking, and its plight was featured in the Emmy-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland.”

Residents first reported problems with their wells in 2008. The water that came out of their faucets turned cloudy, foamy and discolored, and it smelled and tasted foul. Homeowners, all of whom had leased their land to Cabot, said the water made them sick with symptoms that included vomiting, dizziness and skin rashes.

Dozens of plaintiffs settled with Cabot in 2012, but two homeowners opted to take their claims to court.

“It’s very important that when a company like Cabot harms Pennsylvania families … that the courts are a sanctuary for people to seek justice,” the families’ attorney, Leslie Lewis, said in closing arguments Wednesday, according to The Times-Tribune of Scranton.

Stephen Dillard, one of Cabot’s attorneys, argued that the problems in the water wells predated Cabot’s drilling.

Cabot says it will appeal. The company said the jury’s verdict “disregards overwhelming scientific and factual evidence” that it conducted itself properly in the small village of Dimock.

A state investigation found that Cabot had allowed gas to escape into the region’s groundwater supplies, contaminating at least 18 residential water wells.

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