Corporate Polluter Will Pay Millions for New Water System in Susquehanna County

Ray Kemble, left, of Dimock, Pa., and Renee Vogelsang hold a sign outside the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Pennsylvania's most active gas driller has pleaded no contest to criminal environmental charges in a landmark pollution case. Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc. entered its plea Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Brett Pransky

December 6, 2022

While the judgment will help the people of Dimock, the small town that has become synonymous with the anti-fracking movement, questions about swift justice and corporate accountability remain.

On New Year’s Day in 2009, there was an explosion in the village of Dimock, in Susquehanna County. Soon after, residents discovered the source of the blast: dangerous levels of methane in their private water wells, a problem caused by unsafe fracking practices.

Since that time, the village has become synonymous with anti-fracking movements worldwide. Many of the viral stories and videos of people lighting their tap water on fire come from Dimock, but 14 years later, the company responsible for the combustible faucets, Cabot Oil and Gas, has denied responsibility and fought against efforts to hold them accountable.

But those denials ended last Thursday with a no contest plea to charges related to environment crimes, and an agreement to pay $16.29 million toward the construction of new and regulated public water lines. Coterra Energy, the corporate successor of Cabot Oil and Gas, will also pay the water bills for affected residents for the next 75 years.

“Residents of Dimock have waited far too long for the clean water Pennsylvania’s Constitution is supposed to guarantee all of us,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a press conference last Thursday in Susquehanna County.

“Today, Coterra […] took full responsibility for the crimes Cabot committed that polluted residents’ water. Under this historic settlement, Coterra will now pay to build a new public water line that will provide clean, reliable drinking water for generations to come.”

While the outcome is a positive one, Attorney General and Governor-elect Shapiro acknowledged that there have been “failures at every level.” He then went on to explain that residents were ignored for years by local elected officials and that “regulators whose job it is to set the boundaries for industry to operate in, failed.”

And while the judgment will help the people of Dimock, and it will make it harder for polluters to repeat the same irresponsible practices in other communities, it is also a bit of a win for corporate polluters. After all, the company responsible for the damage managed to avoid most consequences for 14 years, while some residents of the area are still hauling water to their homes almost a decade and a half after the New Year’s Day explosion exposed the energy company’s criminal greed.

According to Attorney General Shapiro’s statement, “While it will take time to construct, this water line will ultimately provide the residents of Dimock with clean, safe drinking water when they turn on their tap. Access to this clean water is a right that has been elusive to these homeowners for more than a decade.”

In short, while questions about access to clean water will soon be answered, questions about swift justice and corporate accountability remain.


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