For years, environmentalists have pointed to the town of Dimock, Pa. as the “ground zero” of bad things having to do with hydraulic fracturing.
But the lawyer representing the families suing the drilling company that allegedly impacted their drinking water made a stunning admission in court: The water’s not actually contaminated.
“This is not a case — this is not a case about toxic materials ending up in the water,” lawyer Leslie Lewis told the jury Tuesday while arguing her case before the court.
“We do not have proof of that,” Lewis said. “We don’t have proof of that. This is not about fracking fluid appearing in the water. Hydraulic fracturing materials, we don’t have proof of that.”
The news was first reported by journalist Phelim McAleer, who also created the documentary “Fracknation.” McAleer has been following the fracking debate for years, and has even called out activist filmmaker Josh Fox for not including some inconvenient facts in his anti-fracking film.
“This is hugely significant because Dimock has been characterized as ‘Ground Zero’ for fracking contamination of water,” McAleer wrote in an email detailing the admission by families suing Cabot Oil and Gas.
“It has featured in the documentaries Gasland 1 & 2 and has been the subject of national and international news reports,” McAleer added. “Countless celebrities have also pushed the lie that Dimock’s water was contaminated with fracking fluid. The question now is whether these activists and celebrities will apologize for their damaging and misleading claims.”
Dimock became a battleground over fracking in 2009 as the natural gas boom took off in Pennsylvania. Environmentalists opposed to drilling targeted fracking as their next big campaign and claimed it was causing all sorts of environmental issues, especially water contamination.
In 2009, dozens Dimock families sued Cabot, claiming the company’s fracking operations had contaminated their drinking water with chemical fluids and methane. Plaintiffs claimed the tainted water was making them sick. ProPublica reported such health complaints included “neurological and gastrointestinal illnesses” and “that at least one person’s blood tests show toxic levels of the same metals found in the contaminated water.”
Cabot entered into a consent decree with Pennsylvania regulators in which they promised to provide the town with water, cease operations in the area and do well testing. The company, however, argued Dimock’s water problems stemmed from naturally-occurring methane. The company was held liable by state officials because they are presumed liable for any water issues within 1,000 feet of a gas well.
The lawsuit set off a media firestorm and was used by environmentalists to show just how dangerous fracking was to Americans. Dimock’s fight against Cabot was featured heavily in Fox’s documentary Gasland. In the film, Fox shows a faucet in a Colorado town catching fire when the water was turned on — that image became a symbol representing all fracking.
The internet became awash in pictures of cups and water bottles full of brownish water, which activists claimed was tainted by fracking fluid and methane.
But state and federal regulators eventually cleared Cabot after several rounds of testing showed there were no contaminants in drinking water from fracking operations. The federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2012 “there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.”
EPA did find some hazardous substances in the water, but those were “naturally-occurring,” according to the agency, and people’s water treatment systems could easily filter them out.
Now, the two Dimock families who haven’t settled with Cabot have their day in court, but they aren’t claiming the gas company’s operations caused any health problems — the judge won’t let them make such claims. Plaintiffs can only make “nuisance” and “property” claims against Cabot.
Either way, the plaintiffs’ lawyer says they don’t even have proof Cabot’s operations caused any health problems. Cabot still argues the methane in the water was naturally-occurring and did not stem from fracking.
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