Judge overturns $4.2 million award in fracking pollution case

Dimock, Pennsylvania has been called ground zero in the fight against fracking. It’s the location that became the basis for the movie Gasland by anti-fracking activist Josh Fox. Last March, a federal jury awarded $4.2 million to a pair of Dimock families that had sued over alleged pollution of their drinking water. Today that award was reversed on appeal. From the Hill:

Judge Martin Carlson wrote that the evidence presented at last year’s jury trial by a pair of families in Dimock, Pa., “was spare, sometimes contradictory, frequently rebutted by other scientific expert testimony, and relied in some measure upon tenuous inferences.”

He said there were multiple “weaknesses” in the case, along with “serious and troubling irregularities in the testimony and presentation of the plaintiffs’ case  — including repeated and regrettable missteps by counsel in the jury’s presence,” necessitating that Carlson vacate the jury award against Cabot Oil and Gas Co….

“We do not take this step lightly, and we recognize the significance of voiding the judgment of a panel of jurors who sat through nearly three weeks of trial and reached a unanimous verdict,” he wrote.

The $4 million award was given to just two families who refused to settle with the company. From NPR:

Only two families out of the original 44 plaintiffs in the case against Cabot Oil and Gas went to trial after years of delays, lack of representation, and legal setbacks. Lead plaintiff Scott Ely worked for the driller before becoming a whistleblower.

“I saw so much on these job sites,” he said after the verdict. “I’m not only working for them I’m also a resident and as I’m working for them, I end up becoming a victim of it.”

The verdict wasn’t a total loss for the plaintiffs. Judge Carlson ordered a new federal trial over their claims. Still, it’s a big blow to a ruling that was considered exhibit A in the case against fracking. Last year when the federal jury awarded the money, Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox said: “The gas industry and the frackers went down in the flames of Dimock’s water today.” He added, “The sense of relief and joy and vindication, it’s beyond words.”

The film FrackNation looked at one claim of contaminated water made by another family, the Sautners. As you’ll see in this clip, both the state and the federal EPA determined their water was not contaminated. In 2012, the Sautners sold their property to a subsidiary of the company and moved out of the state.

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David Strom 6:01 AM on June 06, 2023