Gas driller pleads no contest to polluting town’s water

Nov 28, 2022, 11:36 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2022, 5:00 pm
Craig Stevens holds a bottle of brown water as he speaks with members of the media outside the Susq...

Craig Stevens holds a bottle of brown water as he speaks with members of the media outside the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Pennsylvania's most active gas driller has pleaded no contest to criminal environmental charges in a landmark pollution case. Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc. entered its plea Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

MONTROSE, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s most active gas driller pleaded no contest Tuesday to criminal charges, capping a landmark environmental case against a company that prosecutors say polluted a rural community’s drinking water 14 years ago and then tried to evade responsibility.

Residents of the tiny crossroads of Dimock in northeastern Pennsylvania say they have gone more than a decade without a clean, reliable source of drinking water after their aquifer was ruined by Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc.

Under a plea deal entered in Susquehanna County Court, Coterra agreed to pay $16.29 million to fund construction of a new public water system and pay the impacted residents’ water bills for the next 75 years.

“After more than decade of denials, of shirking responsibility and accountability, Coterra pleaded to their crime, and the people of Dimock finally had their day in court,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the state’s incoming governor, said outside the courtroom. “Today is further proof that you don’t get to just walk away from the harm you do here in Pennsylvania.”

The plea — the result of years of negotiations between Coterra and the attorney general’s office — represents a milestone in one of the most prominent pollution cases ever to emerge from the U.S. drilling and fracking boom. Dimock drew national notoriety after residents were filmed lighting their tap water on fire in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland.”

Coterra’s corporate predecessor, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., was charged in June 2020 with 15 criminal counts, most of them felonies, after a grand jury investigation found the company drilled faulty gas wells that leaked flammable methane into residential water supplies in Dimock and surrounding communities.

The grand jury blasted what it called Cabot’s “long-term indifference to the damage it caused to the environment and citizens of Susquehanna County.”

Cabot, which merged with Denver-based Cimarex Energy Co. to form Coterra, has long maintained the gas in residents’ water was naturally occurring.

Coterra pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of prohibition against discharge of industrial wastes under the state’s Clean Streams Law. The plea means Coterra does not admit guilt but agreed to accept criminal responsibility.

“Coterra has worked closely with the Office of Attorney General to resolve historical matters and create a path forward for all parties,” company spokesperson George Stark said via email. He said Coterra “strives to follow best practices, exceed industry standards, and to continue to be a valuable community partner.”

Many residents have avoided using their well water since the aquifer was contaminated with methane and heavy metals, using bottled water, bulk water purchased commercially, and even water drawn from creeks and artesian wells instead.

“These people had to find very creative ways to get water for their homes, water for their families, their kids, their critters, and it was not pretty,” Dimock resident Victoria Switzer said Tuesday. “It was just crazy, people trying to find water.”

Switzer, whose house will be connected to the new water line, called it “wonderful news” — and a long time coming.

Another resident, Scott Ely, said some of his neighbors had moved away or developed health problems as a result of Coterra’s practices, while his own children, now in college, had grown up “without a safe water source.”

“There’s so much heartache,” he said.

Residents were informed of the plea deal last week. A public utility, Pennsylvania American Water, plans to drill two wells — what it calls a “public groundwater system” — and build a treatment plant that will remove any contaminants from the water before piping it to about 20 homes in Dimock. The utility estimates that construction will take about three years, during which Coterra will be required to provide individual treatment systems and bottled water to impacted residents.

The settlement comes near the end of Shapiro’s tenure as attorney general.

On Tuesday, Shapiro, a Democrat who will be sworn in as governor in January, pledged more aggressive regulatory oversight of the industry.

“We have to change our regulatory structure here in the commonwealth,” Shapiro said. “We have to make sure we are setting clear rules of the road and holding industry accountable. If the regulators fail to do that, then industry is not going to be constrained and they’re going to go ahead and put profits before people. And that’s where the danger comes in.”

Shapiro demurred on the question of whether Coterra would be permitted to resume drilling in a 9-square-mile (23-square-kilometer) area of Dimock where it has long been banned. Shpairo said he would review the matter with his new environmental secretary after taking office as governor.

The criminal case has not slowed Coterra’s business. It is the leading shale gas driller in the nation’s No. 2 natural gas-producing state.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hold a pr...
Associated Press

Blinken urges Israel-Palestinian calm as violence soars

CAIRO (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and the Palestinians on Monday to exercise restraint and ease tensions amid a spike in violence that has put the region on edge. Speaking in Cairo, just hours ahead of a two-day visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, Blinken said it is imperative […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

WHO: COVID still an emergency but nearing ‘inflection’ point

GENEVA (AP) — The coronavirus remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization chief said Monday, after a key advisory panel found the pandemic may be nearing an “inflexion point” where higher levels of immunity can lower virus-related deaths. Speaking at the opening of WHO’s annual executive board meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus […]
1 day ago
European lawmakers vote to elect a vice-president of European Parliament, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023 ...
Associated Press

EU watchdog seeks powers, funds for lawmaker probe body

BRUSSELS (AP) — A European Parliament body supervising anti-lobbying and lawmakers’ conduct rules must be given the power and money to launch independent investigations into abuses in the wake of a major corruption scandal, the European Ombudsman’s office warned Monday. European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, an independent watchdog monitoring administrative shortfalls in the European Union on […]
1 day ago
FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Min...
Associated Press

Boris Johnson says Putin said he could hit him with missile

LONDON (AP) — Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that President Vladimir Putin didn’t seem serious about avoiding war in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine — and at one point told the British leader it would be easy to kill him with a missile. The Kremlin denied Putin made any such threat. In […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Turkey favors approving Finland’s NATO bid before Sweden’s

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey could greenlight Finland’s membership in NATO before that of Sweden, if the military alliance and both Nordic countries agree to it, the Turkish foreign minister said Monday. Mevlut Cavusoglu defined Finland’s application as “less problematic” than that of Sweden. Turkey accuses Stockholm of failing to take concrete steps to crackdown […]
1 day ago
Exterior view of the Peace Palace housing the U.N.'s International Court of Justice, or World Court...
Associated Press

Armenia urges UN court to order Azerbaijan to end road block

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Armenia pleaded with judges of the United Nations’ highest court on Monday to order Azerbaijan to break up a road blockade that is isolating the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, calling the action part of an act of “ethnic cleansing.” The hearing at the International Court of Justice comes amid rising […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Gas driller pleads no contest to polluting town’s water