Pennsylvania officials yesterday announced a settlement that will force a Texas-based natural gas drilling company to pay $4.1 million to residents of Dimock, PA (including Norma Fiorentino, at left) who had their drinking water contaminated by methane.
Norma, a retired nurse and grandmother of 19 who lives in a small house in the Marcellus shale region of north central Pennsylvania, said she was "just scraping by" on $557 montly social security checks in 2008 when her husband, Joseph, a plumber, died of a heart attack.
Near her home, Cabot Oil & Gas and its drilling contractors started injecting millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals into the rock as part of a process called hydraulic fracturing that releases natural gas so it can be piped to the surface.
Norma's drinking water well exploded on New Year's Day in 2009, and then her tap water ran black and foul smelling, she said.
"I begged them, 'Please, I'm on a fixed income, I can't afford to buy water. I can't afford to haul water,'" she said in an interview with Bay Daily.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection investigated. The state agency ordered Cabot Oil & Gas to cap three wells believed to be the source of the migrating gas, suspended its review of Cabot’s pending permit applications for new drilling statewide, and prohibited the company from drilling any new wells in a nine-square-mile area around Dimock.
It also forced Cabot to pay for damages. As part of a consent agreement released yesterday, Cabot will pay 19 families in the area twice the value of their homes, with a minimum payment of $50,000 each, according to the state agency. The company will also pay the state $500,000 for the cost of investigating the leaking of natural gas from drilling sites into the residential area.
"The 19 families in Dimock who have been living under very difficult circumstances for far too long will receive a financial settlement that will allow them to address their own circumstances in their own way," said John Hanger, secretary of the state environmental agency.
So much for the industry's argument that gas drilling never contaminates drinking water supplies. Exhibit A is Norma Fiorentino and her neighbors.
To watch the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's video about what happened to Norma, and the boom in gas drilling in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation