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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Shale Gas Program Coordinator
Energy Justice Network
In “Outrageous” Ruling, Federal Judge Sets Aside Unanimous $4.2 Million Jury Award For Water Contamination Case Against Cabot Oil & Gas
(Scranton, Pa.) – A federal judge has set aside a 2016 jury verdict and $4.24 million jury award to two couples from Dimock, Pennsylvania after the jury unanimously found Cabot Oil and Gas negligent for contaminating their well water during drilling for natural gas.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson threw out the award and ordered a new trial unless the parties can come to a settlement.
The plaintiffs in the case are Nolen “Scott” Ely and his family, and Ray Hubert and his family who live next to the Elys. The Ely family has lived in Dimock since the 1800’s.
Scott Ely said “The judge heard the same case that the jury heard and the jury was unanimous. How can he take it upon himself to set aside their verdict? It’s outrageous.”
The Dimock federal civil litigation, which began under the caption Norma Fiorentino, et al., v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation and Gassearch Drilling Services, Inc. in 2009, and concludes under the caption, Nolen Scott Ely, et al., v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, had its final verdict in United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, located in Scranton, PA.
The panel awarded Mr. and Mrs. Ely $2.6 million and their three children $50,000 each. The Huberts were awarded $1.4 million, while another of their family members was awarded $50,000.
Leslie Lewis, attorney for the Dimock families said, “This decision marks another dark chapter for the victims of water contamination from gas drilling operations. Plaintiffs do not believe that the Court’s decision fairly reflects the record, or the totality of what transpired in the courtroom over the ten day trial. Upon a first review of the decision, it appears that the Court made no reference to the evidence and arguments contained in Plaintiffs thoroughly-reasoned and legally-based papers. Plaintiffs reject the Court’s conclusion that Cabot was robbed of a fair trial or that the unanimous, eight- person jury verdict was excessive. Respectfully, this is not so.”
Alex Lotorto, Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network, said, “No matter the outcome of the case, both families have beautiful children which is their greatest wealth. A jury of northeast Pennsylvanians decided their neighbors deserved justice, and there will be justice.”
Except for a two year period when Cabot supplied these plaintiffs with water, since 2008, the Elys and Huberts have been living without reliable access to water and under rationing conditions. To survive day to day, these families haul water at their own expense every week for drinking, bathing and other daily basics.
Beginning in the fall of 2008, Dimock families noticed problems with their drinking water, and began to experience rashes, nausea, headaches and dizziness. A trigger point to the litigation was the explosion of Norma Fiorentino’s private water well on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2008 due to methane gas accumulation in the well head.
The case eventually included 22 families from Dimock and Springville Townships in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, who sought fair compensation for damages to their property and their lives caused by Cabot’s failed natural gas drilling operations.
The travails of these plaintiffs, as well as those of other Dimock families, have been chronicled in the HBO documentaries, Gasland I and Gasland II.
The federal case number is 3:09-cv-02284-MCC.
Energy Justice Network, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia fiscally sponsored the legal fund for the case and have been working with the family since 2009. The website for the shale gas program is www.energyjusticesummer.org.