Residents of a rural community whose drinking water has been contaminated for 14 years met with senior officials at the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office Monday night, a clear sign of movement in the state’s long-running criminal case against a gas driller accused of contaminating aquifers.
They were joined by a representative from Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, the nation’s largest publicly traded water utility. The significance of this wasn’t immediately clear, but Pennsylvania American was involved in the state’s effort to hook up Dimock residents to a city water line, which was aborted in 2010.
Residents declined to comment Monday night as they left the meeting at a high school near Dimock, saying they were ordered not to speak by a prosecutor.
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“Our office remains focused on using our limited tools to restore clean drinking water to residents of Dimock,” Jacklin Rhoads, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement Tuesday. “Yesterday, our attorneys, along with Pennsylvania American Water, updated affected residents on the status of the case and the extensive independent research that was conducted with one goal – how best to bring clean water to their homes.”
Rhoads declined further comment. Their boss, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, won the state’s gubernatorial election this month and will take office in January.
Dimock, a tiny intersection in northeastern Pennsylvania about 15 miles from the New York state line, became notorious in the early days of the state’s drilling and fracking boom after residents were filmed drinking their tap water at the Emmy Awards award-winning documentary Gasland in 2010. Since then, residents have used bottled water, bulk store-bought water, and even water from streams and artesian wells, and say they don’t trust the water from their wells.
The Attorney General’s Office intervened in June 2020 and filed criminal charges against the former Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. A after a grand jury investigation found the company had failed to repair its faulty gas wells, which were leaking combustible methane into water supplies to residential areas in Dimock and surrounding communities.
Cabot, which recently merged with Denver-based Cimarex Energy Co. to form a new company, Coterra Energy Inc., has long claimed the gas is naturally occurring in residents’ water. It faces a total of 15 criminal charges, most of them felonies, including illegal disposal of industrial waste and unlawful conduct under the state’s Clean Streams Act.
The company said Tuesday it was working to resolve the criminal allegations.
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“Coterra remains committed to reaching an amicable resolution with the Attorney General’s Office. We continue to work towards a solution that is productive and beneficial to the community and landowners,” said George Stark, a company spokesman.
Pennsylvania American’s participation, meanwhile, is reminiscent of the state’s earlier attempt to solve the Dimock mystery.
A dozen years ago, state environmental agencies secured nearly $12 million in funding for a municipal water line — and vowed to sue Cabot to get the money back — but were forced, under legal threats from the company and local officials who labeled it a indicated to back down candy. Instead, Cabot agreed to pay residents a total of $4.1 million and install individual water purification systems.
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However, some residents say the systems never worked properly, forcing them to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking and receive larger water deliveries for showering, dishwashing and toilet flushing. The same residents flatly rejected a proposal by the attorney general’s office last December that Cabot pay for the installation of new treatment systems.