(Adds quote from Cabot spokesman)
By Jon Hurdle
DIMOCK, Pennsylvania Nov 20 Residents of a
small rural Pennsylvania town sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp (COG.N)
on Friday, claiming the company's natural-gas drilling has
contaminated their water wells with toxic chemicals, caused
sickness and reduced their property values.
The lawsuit accuses the company of violating state
environmental laws by allowing drilling chemicals to escape
from gas wells, where they are used in a technique called
A Cabot spokesman said the company had not had time to
study the lawsuit in detail but said Cabot was in full
compliance with Pennsylvania's environmental laws and
"disappointed" by the lawsuit.
"We don't see merit in these claims," Cabot spokesman
Ken Komoroski said.
The company, like others in the industry, has argued that
its drilling processes are safe because chemicals are heavily
diluted and are injected into the ground through layers of
steel and concrete thousands of feet below the aquifers that
are used for drinking water.
The industry says there has never been a documented case of
ground water contamination because of hydraulic fracturing.
The case is one of the first to confront the industry over
the technique, which critics claim pollutes aquifers with
chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
Cabot's drilling allowed methane to escape into private
water wells and in two cases caused wellhead explosions due to
a gas build-up, the 15 families in the lawsuit claim.
Pat Farnelli, 46, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told
reporters on Friday that some of her eight children suffered
stomach cramps after drinking water from the family's well,
which is a few hundred yards from a gas well. She ruled out
water-borne bacteria because boiling the water didn't help.
'WE WANT JUSTICE'
The suit is the culmination of complaints by residents of
the northeastern Pennsylvania community where Cabot has drilled
dozens of gas wells in its efforts to develop the Marcellus
Shale, a massive gas formation that underlies about two-thirds
of Pennsylvania and parts of surrounding states.
"These releases, spills and discharges caused the
plaintiffs and their property to be exposed to such hazardous
gases, chemicals and industrial wastes," said the complaint.
The complaint says residents have suffered neurological,
gastrointestinal and dermatological symptoms from exposure to
tainted water. They also say they have had blood test results
consistent with exposure to heavy metals.
Victoria Switzer, a plaintiff who lives about a mile from
Carter's home, said she had joined the lawsuit because she had
failed to get satisfaction from the state Department of
Environmental Protection or her elected representatives.
"Lawyers were the last thing I wanted," she said. "We are
not greedy people, we just want some justice."
The lawsuit accuses Cabot of negligence and says it has
failed to restore residential water supplies disrupted by gas
drilling. It seeks a permanent injunction to stop the drilling
processes that are blamed for the contamination, as well as
unspecified compensatory damages.
Residents of many gas-drilling areas in the United States
say the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are
contaminating ground water. However, they have been unable to
prove that, in part because energy companies are not required
to disclose the composition of their drilling fluids.
Gas deposits such as the Marcellus Shale offer the United
States an opportunity to reduce dependence on overseas oil
imports and reduce carbon emissions, advocates say. But
development could slow if fracturing is shown to be
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Michelle Nichols, Richard Chang
and Steve Orlofsky)