Dec 13, 2022
Environmental justice advocates cried foul Tuesday after it was reported that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is allowing a fracking giant to resume drilling operations in Dimock just two weeks after it accepted responsibility for poisoning the small rural town's drinking water.
"Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro must address this outrageous betrayal as soon as he takes office next month."
Roughly 14 years after a well explosion on New Year's Day 2009 revealed to Dimock residents that methane had seeped into their groundwater, Cabot Oil & Gas pleaded no contest to 15 criminal charges, including nine felonies, on November 29. The notorious driller, now owned by Coterra Energy, was featured in the 2010 HBO documentary Gasland.
On the same day the Houston-based company took responsibility for destroying the town's drinking water and agreed to pay $16.3 million to build new public water infrastructure and to cover the costs of delivering clean water to those who have been harmed for the next 75 years, it received a green light to extract more of the same polluting fossil fuels when state regulators quietly lifted a moratorium on gas production in Dimock that had been in place since 2010.
As The Associated Pressreported Monday, "State officials denied that Coterra was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for being allowed to drill for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gas."
"Some of the residents, who have long accused the Department of Environmental Protection of negligence in its handling of the water pollution in Dimock, said they felt betrayed," the news outlet noted.
"We got played," said Ray Kemble, a Dimock resident who has led a yearslong fight against the fracking company and state regulators alike.
Food & Water Watch Pennsylvania state director Megan McDonough said Tuesday in a statement that "this outrageous action by Gov. [Tom] 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," said McDonough. "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."
According to AP:
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who takes office as governor next month, held a celebratory news conference with Kemble and two other Dimock residents on the day Coterra entered its plea. At the news conference, Shapiro punted a reporter's question about whether Coterra would be permitted to resume drilling in the moratorium area, pointing out the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was still in charge.
"That's obviously a question for the regulators, not for the attorney general's office," Shapiro said then.
Shapiro's spokesperson said the plea deal was not contingent on DEP lifting the moratorium.
"Our office plays no role in DEP's regulatory decisions and we do not share confidential information about criminal investigations," Jacklin Rhoads said.
Wolf, for his part, told the news outlet that he feels fine about his administration's decision to allow Coterra to go back into Dimock "as long as they do what we need them to do with the new water supply and the pipes," adding that the company has to adhere to "some pretty stringent guidelines."
McDonough, meanwhile, said that "this unconscionable action is a betrayal of suffering communities that are still years away from a permanent solution that will restore their access to clean water."
A huge body of research has documented the deadly consequences of fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction, including planet-heating and illness-causing air pollution as well as drinking water contamination, which creates another pathway of exposure to cancer-linked chemicals.
Peer-reviewed studies published earlier this year found that newborns who live in close proximity to fracking and other so-called "unconventional" drilling operations are two to three times more likely to develop childhood leukemia and that elderly individuals who live near or downwind of fracking sites are at higher risk of early death.
"Gov. Wolf should be ashamed of this agreement," said McDonough. "Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro must address this outrageous betrayal as soon as he takes office next month."
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