Dimock PA
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By Erin L. Nissley-------- The Times Tribune

 

Dimock Twp. families fighting for the resumption of drinking water deliveries suffered a setback Friday when a hearing board issued an order that urges them to try the remedies offered by the state and the natural gas driller blamed with contaminating their water wells with methane.

Earlier this month, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. stopped delivery of bulk and bottled water to 11 families after the state determined the driller had fulfilled the terms of a December 2010 settlement. The settlement required the company to offer to install methane-removal systems and fund escrow accounts with twice the tax-assessed value of each of the affected homes. Eleven of the families rejected those terms, which they consider inadequate to restore their water supplies permanently.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the families submitted arguments to the state Commonwealth Court's Environmental Hearing Board saying the state wrongly ignored the harm that could come from drinking water contaminated with metals, solvents and manufactured chemicals found in levels above state and federal standards.

Cabot and the state Department of Environmental Protection also submitted arguments Wednesday. They say the board does not have the authority to force the driller to continue deliveries of drinking water and cannot order the DEP to take enforcement action.

On Friday, the board ordered that water deliveries will resume for any of the 11 families who are "willing to at least try a whole-house gas mitigation device paid for by Cabot and installed by plumbers hired by Cabot."

Cabot also will pay each of the families between $50,000 and nearly $400,000 "with no strings attached and no questions asked," according to the hearing board's order. The payments will take place immediately, the order said.

"Cabot is pleased with the judge's ruling and now looks to resolve this matter to the benefit of all parties," Cabot spokesman George Stark said in a release. "Cabot is committed to a long term solution, as called for in the settlement."

But several of the residents involved in the case said the hearing board's order is no different than an offer Cabot has already made.

"It doesn't sound like anything's changed," said lifelong Dimock resident Ron Carter. "It's frustrating."

Another lifelong Dimock resident, Scott Ely, said the gas mitigation device does not address other contaminants in the drinking water.

"They're only testing for methane," he said. "It's not only the gas we're worried about." Both Mr. Ely and Mr. Carter said they are not sure what the next step will be.

"I'll continue to fight until the bitter end," Mr. Ely said. "The whole world is watching what's happening."

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