A recent peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed what many fracking critics have argued for years: drilling operations associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking) for oil and gas can contaminate groundwater.
For the study, researchers examined groundwater contamination incidents at three homes in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin in Bradford County. As The New York Times explained, the water samples showed “traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids.”
The study's release comes as a seminal lawsuit demanding recovery for such damages winds its way to a jury trial later this year in the U.S. District Court in Scranton, PA. That case pits two families from Dimock, PA, located in neighboring Susquehanna County, against Texas-based, industry giant, Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation.
As DeSmogBlog revealed in August 2013, a previously unpublished internal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PowerPoint presentation confirmed that the EPA, as a result of its own limited sampling, knew that there was ongoing groundwater contamination in Dimock potentially attributable to industry.
Image Credit: DeSmogBlog
Yet, even though the EPA knew this, it issued an official desk statement to the public asserting that “there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency [in Dimock].”
As Greenpeace USA researcher Jesse Coleman recently pointed out, EPA has done the bidding of the oil and gas industry on multiple instances during high profile fracking studies.
That PowerPoint presentation and the new Bradford County study could both potentially serve as key pieces of evidence in the U.S. District Court case.
Ely v. Cabot
Initially, the U.S. District Court complaint filed in November 2009 featured many more plaintiffs.
The story of how fracking forever changed Dimock played a prominent role in the documentary films “Gasland” and “Gasland: Part II.” Dimock's saga also received national and international media coverage by “60 Minutes” and the BBC.
But years passed by in the case and eventually most of the plaintiffs agreed — some would argue they were forced — to enter into a plea deal with Cabot. A handful of plaintiffs have refused to throw in the towel, and will soon have their day in court.
Many of the plaintiffs entered into a presidential election-year plea deal with Cabot in August 2012, a month after EPA declared publicly that water is safe to drink in Dimock (while privately telling citizens the opposite). The case caption then changed from Norma Florentino v. Cabot to Scott Ely v. Cabot.
Photo Credit: Stand With Dimock Families
Ely is a former Cabot employee joined in the case by co-plaintiff Ray Hubert, who lives up the street from Ely on Carter Road. When shown the leaked PowerPoint back in August 2013 by DeSmog, Ely expressed despair over EPA abandoning ship in this high profile study.
“When does anybody just stand by the truth? Why is it that we have a bunch of people in Washington, DC who are trying to manipulate the truth of what's happening to people in Dimock because of the industry?,” Ely asked rhetorically at the time.
“We thought EPA was going to come in and be our savior. And what'd they do? They said the truth can't be known: hide it, drop it, forget about it.”
“Stand with Dimock Families”
Advocates for the grassroots group Energy Justice Network have created an IndieGoGo page to raise funds for the legal battle set to go to a jury trial on November 30, 2015. They have also created a website, StandWithDimock.org.
The IndieGoGo page explains that the co-plaintiffs have limited access to clean water due to the impacts of Cabot's drilling operations.
“[S]ince 2008, the Elys and Huberts have been living without reliable access to water and under rationing conditions. To survive day to day, these families haul water at their own expense every week for drinking, bathing and other daily basics. They purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking,” the page explains. “The Court has recognized that these plaintiffs have a case against Cabot which they are preparing to present to a jury of their peers.”
To be certain, this is a case that will be key in determining whether frackers who contaminate drinking water can be held accountable under federal law.