Saturday, December 18, 2010

DCS comment on what really is happening in Dimock

From: B. Arrindell
Subject: SCGF DCS comment on what really is happening in Dimock
Date: Saturday, December 18, 2010, 5:03 PM

The following has been posted as a comment on the Scranton Times-Tribune website.

B. Arrindell
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)

First, the article. Then the Damascas Citizens Response -- ed.

Settlement between Cabot and DEP draws criticism, praise
BY LAURA LEGERE (STAFF WRITER) Published: December 17, 2010

A settlement reached on Wednesday between the Department of Environmental Protection and a Houston-based gas driller has raised questions among critics about how strongly the state will defend its enforcement actions against an increasingly influential industry even as supporters applauded the agreement as a victory for common sense.
The settlement includes $4.1 million for 19 Dimock Twp. families whose methane contamination was attributed to faulty Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. natural gas wells, enough money - twice the value of each home - for the families to "address their own circumstances in their own way," DEP Secretary John Hanger said.

The agreement replaces an earlier enforcement action that called for Cabot to pay for an $11.8 million waterline to the homes, a project that was met with criticism because it would have been paid for initially through public funds. The prospect of recovering the money from Cabot was uncertain.

Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the settlement is a "significant stepping down by the state" from the remedy Mr. Hanger said he believes is the right one.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hanger attributed the need for the settlement to public opposition to the line, especially among the state's Republican elected officials who will control the executive and legislative branches come January.

By tying compensation to property values, the settlement also appears to be an effort to buy residents out of their homes, Ms. Sinding said.
"It looks like the state is throwing up its hands and throwing money at these people instead of helping figure out how to get them the clean water that they're asking for," she said.

"It doesn't seem to be in any way reflective of the actual harm associated with the water contamination, unless you think the ultimate remedy is to get these people to pick up and move their lives."

Critics of the waterline applauded the settlement, calling it the right decision for taxpayers and a fair penalty for Cabot.

Nate Benefield, director of policy research for the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank that refers to the waterline as the "pipeline to nowhere," said the settlement is a "great victory" especially because "taxpayers are now completely off the hook."

"It sends the message that drillers are going to be held liable when they cause damage," he said, "and when they step up to deal with that on their own with a settlement, the way Cabot did, they will be dealt with fairly."

Loren Salsman, one of the Dimock residents affected by the contamination who also helped form a group called Enough Already to fight against the waterline, said the settlement is "everything I could have hoped for."

In arguing against the waterline, Mr. Salsman touted the effectiveness of the methane elimination systems that Cabot must now offer and pay to install in all of the 19 homes - one of which is already treating his water and "working great."

Mr. Salsman will receive $210,240 from the settlement, a payment he acknowledged he would not have gotten if the state and some of his neighbors had not first supported the waterline.

"Their work, and then the fight against it, all culminated in this agreement, which obviously benefits me," he said.

The lesson of Enough Already's fight, he said, is "democracy still works."

Victoria Switzer, another of the affected Dimock residents who has joined with neighbors to sue Cabot for damages to health and property, saw a different lesson in the settlement.

"This is a bad deal for the state, what happened here," she said. "It exonerates the gas companies. What a message to democracy how mob mentality rules."
She and her husband will receive $162,352 if they accept the settlement money, far less than the amount they have invested in building a home in Dimock during the past three years.

She said she could take the money and leave her home at a loss, an impossible choice.

"Where are you going to go in the state?" she asked. "How are you going to get out of gasland?"

Contact the writer:

Damascus Citizens Response:


We wonder if use of the word "settlement" is appropriate, since the parties impacted were not consulted, since the dollar amounts do not consistently reflect twice the value of the homes as Secretary Hanger alleges, and most importantly, since it does not include the permanent solution to the water supply problem that the plaintiffs have asked for.

Let's step back and review the background that led us here, and be clear about what actually might have transpired.

This started when PADEP conspired with Cabot (that is, without participation of the impacted parties) to impose "gas mitigation devices" as the "permanent solution" to the water problems on and around Carter Road. If residents rejected that solution, then PADEP would nevertheless deem Cabot in fulfillment of the consent order.

Plaintiffs to the lawsuit (the residents group in the consent order are not identical to the residents group in the lawsuit: they overlap by 13 members) rejected this "remediation" since A) they were not consulted and B) they cannot rely on assurances that the "gas mitigation devices" will effectively filter out the drilling muds, surfactants and other frack chemicals that are pumped into the ground, many of which are poisonous at minute levels, nor the VOCs and the NORMs that are already in the ground and that can migrate pursuant to stimulation, which are also harmful to human life, C) accepting that these things would actually work, it was not determined who was going to insure effective maintenance and upkeep, especially once the gas company was long gone, who would pay for added electricity costs, and there was no consideration of what said devices would do to property values, and D) plaintiffs would be living in a constant state of fear that they would be slowly poisoning themselves if anything went wrong undetected.

PADEP asked both plaintiffs and Cabot to come to a meeting with alternative proposals.

Plaintiffs came with two: a pipeline to the nearest clean aquifer, since this remediation came closest to "returning the properties to as they were before gas drilling commenced" – that is, another groundwater supply - or in the alternative, the nearest municipal water supply.

Cabot came empty-handed.

PADEP chose the pipeline option from a municipal water supply because it felt that it was the only long-term solution; that is, the nearest aquifer might itself become contaminated due either to the spread of the plume or due to increased industrial activity in the area.

Cabot's empty hands then reached into its pockets to mobilize a faux grassroots movement called "Enough Already".

These "populist critics" are now calling PADEP's reversal the "right decision for taxpayers". This ignores the fact that the money for the pipeline was taken from public funds only because plaintiffs have been waiting for two years for appropriate remediation from Cabot's unlawful actions (talk about "enough already") and would have to be repaid by Cabot to the state of Pennsylvania. In the end, Enough Already's campaign simply helped Cabot avoid spending money on more expensive talent – not that the "populists critics" didn't get the job done, mind you, this is quite a piece of work - by buying into and selling to the public Cabot's implied threat: that the company would impose these costs on the taxpayer by fighting the pipeline's cost in court.

Ann Teel, Loren Salsman and others in "Enough Already" say the lesson of Enough Already's fight is that "democracy still works." But as can be seen, what we have here instead is an effective public relations campaign mounted by Cabot that knowingly and willingly manipulated members of a small community and divided it, and that together with pressure no doubt from elsewhere in the industry who did not want to see this precedent and pressure from an incoming administration, succeeded in further postponing the day when the people around Carter Road will see true justice. Ann and Loren, btw, walk away with $357K and $210K respectively for their efforts in "democracy" (looks like the talent wasn't so cheap after all). And Mr Lewis, also an "Enough Already" organizer, gets to keep making money delivering dirty water to impacted residents. Hopefully PADEP will at least make sure he is licensed.

And the lesson from the state of Pennsylvania? It goes something like: if the gas company messes with your water, we will pay (sort of) for you to abandon your homes, abandon your communities (talk about family values!), abandon your memories and your histories, possibly generations worth. Gas companies will continue to be permitted to drill, and in their wake a swath of ghost towns will be carved out in a crescent arc stretching from northeast Pennsylvania to its southwest because contrary to assertions by industry and its sympathizers, Dimock is not an anomaly, Cabot is not a lone outlaw. There are already other lawsuits in Susquehanna, Bradford and Washington counties; Chesapeake is the driller with the highest rate of violations. By this time next year, there will be many more Dimocks and Cabots.

And by the way, the "settlement" that Hanger says has no strings attached? Remember, Cabot had already agreed to two consent orders and promptly violated them. Currently, Cabot is circulating a packet to each plaintiff around Carter Road, asserting that the escrow account will not be available for 30 days, but that Cabot will give you the money today "if you just sign this little piece of paper". It is said that Mr. Stark- Cabot's public relations spokesperson - is "not sure" what the paper says and advises that you will have to check with Cabot lawyers.

Gotta hand it to these guys, they may not be good at drilling within the law, but they sure are terrific at running away from the consequences of violating it.

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability


1 comment:

Gale said...

Wow, this just goes to show, yet again, money talks, facts walk.
My heart goes out to the people of Dimock.