Nearly 14 years after a water well explosion on Jan. 1, 2009, made residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, aware of methane in their groundwater, the fracking company responsible pleaded no contest to 15 criminal charges, including nine felonies. The notorious Cabot Oil & Gas, now Coterra Energy, agreed Nov. 29 to pay more than $16 million for a public water line to Dimock residents and to cover their water bills for 75 years.
For the residents of this rural town, who had suffered from multiple cancers and other illnesses related to contaminated water and air quality, the court ruling against Coterra Energy was long overdue. Unfortunately, it was also short-lived.
On the same day that Houston-based Coterra pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of the state Clean Streams Law, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulators lifted the moratorium on fracking in Dimock, which has been in place since 2010.
Coterra can return to drilling in Dimock, poisoning the community and potentially making hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. The $16 million they are required to pay out in the penalty agreement pales in comparison to the profits they stand to gain.
With President Joe Biden’s administration using the war in Ukraine and energy shortages — caused by U.S. sanctions — to push for export of U.S. natural gas to Europe, the capitalist U.S. government will do nothing to limit its production. As long as there are more profits to be made, regardless of the environmental destruction and risk to human lives, the unfettered energy industry will continue its plunder.
Water lit on fire
Cabot Oil & Gas was the company featured in the 2010 HBO documentary “GasLand” in which Dimock residents were shown able to light water from their taps on fire, because of the amount of methane in it. At the time, this reporter interviewed one Dimock resident who carried a gallon jug of brown, contaminated water from their wells every time they spoke in public.
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of salt- and chemical-laced water deep underground to break up shale formations and release natural gas. While called “the clean energy” by drillers, this process of mining for natural gas releases elevated levels of methane into the environment.
Exposure to the chemical compounds used in fracking has been linked to serious sinus, skin, neurological, liver and kidney problems. DEP whistleblowers alleged in 2012 that the presence of heavy metals, including boron, chromium, cobalt, lithium and titanium, are tested for but deliberately not reported, even when levels violate safe drinking water standards.
Testing results for the volatile organic compounds acetone, chloroform and t-Butyl alcohol are also not reported. These compounds, as well as several of the unreported metals, are known fracking-related contaminants and carcinogens. The tainted DEP reports were often used to dismiss claims of Pennsylvanians who suspected their water and their family’s health were at risk from drilling, so it is not surprising that the so-called state “regulators” came out again on the side of a corporation that just admitted to 15 criminal charges.
Both corporate political parties bear blame
Fracking was greatly expanded under Republican Governor Tom Corbett during his only term from January 2011 to January 2015. His successor, outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf has consistently failed to take a position against fracking in Pennsylvania, while claiming the minimal tax revenues generated from fracking are “good for the state.” Incoming Democrat governor-elect Josh Shapiro, in his current position as state attorney general, was responsible for negotiating the plea deal with Coterra.
“We got played,” said Ray Kemble, a Dimock resident who has led a years-long fight against the fracking company and state regulators alike.
Food and Water Watch Pennsylvania state director Megan McDonough, said in a Dec. 13 statement: “This outrageous action by Gov. Wolf is just one more gift his administration is delivering to the dirty fracking industry. The people of Dimock suffered at the hands of careless corporate polluters, as have other communities across Pennsylvania. Reaching this deal, on the very same day that Coterra was in court for contaminating Dimock’s water, raises serious questions about what was going on behind the scenes in the Wolf administration.” (Common Dreams, Dec. 13, 2022)
The environmental group said allowing Coterra to drill again was an unconscionable “betrayal of suffering communities” and urged incoming Gov. Josh Shapiro to undo the deal when he takes office. Shapiro, however, who was at the press conference with Dimock residents when the plea deal was announced, avoided answering press questions about the sell-out deal.
Anti-fracking activists can’t rely on politicians — they have to keep building a grassroots movement to stop the energy companies from destroying their communities.