A Pennsylvania jury is being selected this week in a lawsuit filed by two families over drinking water contamination allegedly caused by hydraulic fracturing operations, or “fracking”.
The trial involves claims brought by Ray and Victoria Hubert, and Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., indicating that that the company’s fracking contaminated well water with methane.
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, involves the injection of a mixture of water, chemicals, sand and fluids into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then supposed to be sucked from the ground and disposed of in wastewater wells. However, the controversial process has become a source of health and safety concerns throughout the U.S.
Critics have linked fracking to a variety of environmental problems, including pollution of groundwater sources and increased truck traffic pollution, as well as other concerns that fracking can reduce property values and may sicken nearby residents.
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that fracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment. The lawsuit filed by the Hubert and Ely families allege that fracking near their home caused methane to contaminate their drinking water.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that some hydraulic fracturing has resulted in polluted water supplies. However, the agency noted that the problem was not yet widespread. It also noted that it lacked sufficient evidence to truly understand how widespread the problem may be.
The two families who brought the charges in this case live near Dimock, Pennsylvania, which was highlighted in the documentary “Gasland.” The film focused on water contamination from fracking and is most commonly known for scenes showing residents able to set their drinking water on fire as it came out of the tap.
Cabot officials said the drinking water the families had was still potable, but the families showed reporters bottles of clouded, brown water that came from their wells. The families also claim a Pennsylvania law makes the company responsible for any contaminated water sources within 1,000 feet of their operations.
In this latest fracking lawsuit to go before a jury, the couples are asking for both compensatory and punitive damages, which are designed to punish the defendant. The two couples are the last of a group of about 40 plaintiffs from the area that sued Cabot, the rest of whom have reached fracking settlements with the company.
In 2014, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for creating a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in that fracking lawsuit, nearly two dozen wells near the plaintiff’s property exposed them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.