Last updated: February 15. 2013 12:40PM - 859 Views

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Describing their situation as a “war zone,” 15 property owners in Dimock Township in Susquehanna County filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Cabot Oil and Gas, claiming the Houston-based driller caused property damage, created health hazards and “hoodwinked” the residents into unfair contracts.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. It notes several spills that contaminated ground and water in the area, an explosion at a water well, a well-vent fire caused by accumulating methane.
It seeks remediation of the contamination, a stop to what they see as Cabot’s illegal actions, future health monitoring and an unspecified amount in damages for property devaluation, natural resource degradation, medical costs, “fraudulent misrepresentation,” and “gross negligence.”
“They’ve used these 15 families, and probably more, as guinea pigs,” said Leslie Lewis, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “We’re not taking on the entire gas industry. We’re taking on Cabot for being a rogue company, who – frankly – don’t know what they’re doing.”
Cabot, which recently signed an agreement with the state acknowledging DEP’s belief that Cabot violated a variety of environmental regulations, maintains that the lawsuit is baseless.
“We see no merit in these claims, and we’re disappointed that these citizens felt necessary to proceed in this fashion,” company spokesman Ken Komoroski said. “There’s no need or reason for this action.”
Komoroski said the DEP agreement “provides further assurance” that Cabot is improving its processes and that DEP will effectively enforce its permits. Following several DEP citations and $56,000 in fines for fluid spills, Cabot signed the agreement that levied an additional $120,000 fine and requires Cabot to supply alternatives to water wells that were contaminated with methane at 13 residences in a nine-square-mile area around Carter Road in the township.
Cabot is also required to submit to and receive approval from DEP for drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in that area.
“Unfortunately, these 14 Carter Road families have been living with these promises – ‘We really mean it’ – for too long,” Lewis said. “This is a particularly vulnerable pocket of people, and it’s just plain not right.”
Such assurances weren’t enough for residents, though the decision to seek legal recourse was done hesitantly, according to Lewis. “They thought about it long and hard. …They didn’t want to go through this,” she said. “They’re not litigious people, and this is the last step.”
While Cabot has sued several property owners regarding leasing issues and access, Komoroski said Cabot didn’t believe the lawsuit was retaliatory. “We think the people involved are good honest people whoa re interested in protecting their homes and their families,” he said.
Lewis indicated at each family has damages that exceeded the threshold for federal court, which is $75,000, and that “hidden conduct on the part of the company that hasn’t even gotten to the DEP” would be unveiled at trial.
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