Residents of a rural community whose drinking water has been contaminated for 14 years met Monday night with high-level officials in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, a clear indication of movement in the state’s long-running criminal case against a gas driller charged with polluting the aquifer.
Joining them was a representative from Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, the nation’s largest publicly traded water utility. The significance of that was not immediately made clear, but Pennsylvania American was involved in the state’s aborted 2010 effort to connect the residents of Dimock to a municipal water line.
Residents declined comment Monday night as they left the meeting at a high school near Dimock, saying they’d been instructed by a prosecutor not to talk.
“Our office remains laser focused on using our limited tools to restore clean drinking water for the residents of Dimock,” Jacklin Rhoads, a spokesperson in the attorney general’s office, said in a statement Tuesday. “Yesterday, our attorneys along with Pennsylvania American Water updated the impacted residents on the status of the case and the extensive independent research done with one goal — how best to provide clean water to their homes.”
Rhoads declined further comment. Her boss, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, won the state’s gubernatorial election this month and will take office in January.
Dimock, a tiny crossroads in northeastern Pennsylvania, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the New York state line, became notorious in the early days of the state’s drilling and fracking boom after residents were filmed lighting their tap water on fire in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland.” Since then, residents have used bottled water, bulk water purchased commercially, and even water drawn from creeks and artesian wells, saying they don’t trust the water coming from their wells.
The state attorney general’s office got involved in June 2020, filing criminal charges against the former Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. after a grand jury investigation found the company had failed to fix its faulty gas wells, which leaked flammable methane into residential water supplies 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 maintained the gas in residents’ water was naturally occurring. It faces a total of 15 criminal counts, most of them felonies, including illegal discharge of industrial wastes and unlawful conduct under the state’s Clean Streams Law.
The company said Tuesday that it is working to resolve the criminal charges.
“Coterra remains committed to achieving an amicable resolution with the Office of the Attorney General. We continue to work towards a resolution that is productive and beneficial to the community and landowners,” said George Stark, a company spokesperson.
The participation of Pennsylvania American, meanwhile, recalls the state’s previous attempt to solve the Dimock riddle.
A dozen years ago, state environmental regulators secured nearly $12 million in financing for a municipal water line — and pledged to sue Cabot to recoup the money — but were forced to back down under legal threat from the company and local officials, who called it a boondoggle. Instead, Cabot agreed to pay residents a total of $4.1 million and install individual water treatment systems.
But some residents say the systems never worked properly, forcing them to purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking and get larger deliveries of water for showering, washing dishes and flushing toilets. Those same residents flatly rejected a proposal by the attorney general’s office last December that Cabot pay for the installation of new treatment systems.