PA DEP Takes Aggressive Action Against Cabot Oil & Gas over Dimock Township Methane Contamination

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is not happy with what it says is lack of progress on the part of Cabot Oil & Gas in the remediation of methane contamination of water supplies in Dimock Township, PA. The DEP blames Cabot for the methane contamination. Cabot claims they really aren’t at fault and are being unfairly blamed for a naturally occurring phenomenon (migrating natural gas).*

Today’s consent order from the DEP stipulates that Cabot must:

  • Plug three wells believed to be the source of the migrating methane gas—within 40 days.
  • Install permanent water treatment systems in the affected 14 homes.
  • Pay $30,000 per month in fines, starting in May, until all obligations are met.

In addition:

  • The DEP is immediately suspending reviews of any pending Cabot permits to drill elsewhere in the entire state.
  • Cabot is barred from drilling any new gas wells in Dimock Township for at least one year.

From the DEP press release:

HARRISBURG — The Department of Environmental Protection today issued a sweeping order requiring Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to take extensive actions and help the residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, who have been affected by the company’s drilling activities.

Under the consent order and agreement, Cabot must plug three wells within 40 days that are believed to be the source of migrating gas that has contaminated groundwater and the drinking water supplies of 14 homes in the region. It must also install permanent treatment systems in those homes within 30 days.

Additionally, DEP Secretary John Hanger said his agency is immediately suspending its review of Cabot’s pending permit applications for new drilling activities statewide until it fulfills its obligations under the order issued today. Cabot also is barred from drilling any new wells for at least one year in the Dimock Township area.

Today’s action follows Cabot’s failure to abide by the terms of a November 2009 consent order and agreement with DEP.

“Cabot had every opportunity to correct these violations, but failed to do so. Instead, it chose to ignore its responsibility to safeguard the citizens of this community and to protect the natural resources there,” said Hanger. “I have ordered that all of Cabot’s permit applications for further drilling in any region of the state be put on-hold, indefinitely, until the region’s homeowners receive their new water treatment systems, the fines are paid, and the wells are plugged.

“Gas migration is a serious issue that can have dire consequences to affected communities and we will not allow Pennsylvania’s citizens to be put in harms way by companies that chose not to follow the law.”

During recent inspections, DEP identified five additional defective Cabot gas wells and another home water supply that has been affected by gas migration, bringing to 14 the number of impacted water supplies in the Dimock area. Hanger said DEP also will continue to investigate another 10 Cabot gas wells in the Dimock area over the next 85 days that could be sources of migrating gas and determine whether Cabot should be ordered to plug some or all of those wells.

The original November 2009 consent order and agreement directed Cabot to meet a March 31 deadline to fix defective cement and well casings on certain wells and to prevent the unpermitted natural gas discharge into groundwater that violated the state’s Clean Streams Law and the Oil and Gas Act. The company did not meet this deadline, while the migrating gas continues to impact water supplies at homes in a nine-square-mile area near Carter Road.

As part of today’s order, Cabot has also paid a $240,000 fine to the commonwealth, which has been deposited into the state’s well-plugging account. It also must pay $30,000 per month beginning in May until DEP has determined that the company has met its obligations under the 2009 order.

“Companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale have the legal responsibility to design and construct their wells to keep all gas contained within the wells and to prevent gas from moving into fresh groundwater. These standards are not mere suggestions or recommendations,” Hanger said. “Oil and gas companies doing business in Pennsylvania will follow the environmental rules and regulations put in place to protect citizens and our natural resources or face aggressive action by this department.”

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is headquartered in Houston, Texas with a mailing address in Pittsburgh.**

*State College The Centre Daily Times (Apr 15) – Contamination suspends Cabot’s Pa. gas drilling

**PA Department of Environmental Protection – DEP Takes Aggressive Action Against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp to Enforce Environmental Laws

  • John Kavaller

    Just what to expect from companies who always put profit ahead of human decency. Cheaper to pay the fines and mitigation costs, isn’t it?

    Meanwhile, do the home owners get to collect punitive and compensatory damages based on the neglectful and disgraceful oversight of the referenced company at fault in this press release and blog?

    How about pain and suffering damages for the nightmare involved with having one’s water supply contaminated and disregarded?

    This is only the beginning. Big business is quite satisfied to underperform relative to law, rules, and regulations. Why–because it’s cheaper to pollute than protect our environment. Simple math.

    Here’s another point to ponder: What happens when the at fault company goes bankrupt? Who pays for new services and clean up then? That’s right–no one will be held responsible because no personal liability extends to corporate entitites-Neat way to do business eh?

    Love Canal–all over again!

    John Kavaller

  • Jim

    John: I don’t share your view that drilling in general will lead to a widespread catastrophe like Love Canal. I do share your view that Cabot, indeed any driller who causes damage, should be held to account and strictly so. Seems to me the PA DEP is doing a good job of holding Cabot’s feet to the fire. By forcing them to plug wells, stopping all pending permits from moving forward, etc., I think the DEP is sending a very loud and clear message to Cabot, don’t you? It leads me to have trust that the system does work.

    To your point about the people affected, yes, it would be a nightmare and I’m sure it is for them. If you follow the link to the article in the Centre Daily Times, you’ll see the entire group is suing Cabot for damages (punitive as well as compensatory).

    Let’s make it so it is not cheaper to pollute, as you put it. Drilling can happen–safely. And when problems arise, let’s deal with them honestly and openly.

    The answer is not to ban all drilling. That conclusion is not warranted, and not feasible.

  • brian

    I think the PADEP decision is good – we need to be proactive in this matter. The situations need to be resolved and we need to learn from mistakes.

  • Dave

    This is just the beginning, just like the coal industry. We are still feeling the effects of acid and sulphur from mine drainage from mines that have been closed for years. With marcellous gas drilling, no one knows what long term effects this drilling may have on our environment. Look at Dish Texas. They have a similar shell and gas drilling there and there is an outbreak of cancer not only in the people but also in the livestock. We cannot afford to take the risks without further in depth research of the effects of this industry. Driliing needs to be haulted until the public can honestly be assured that the risks are minimal and not life altering.

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