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Fracking Water Contamination Lawsuits Mount

Feb 1, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Since August 2009, nearly two dozen lawsuits have been filed throughout the country by property owners who claim natural gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has contaminated water supplies.  According to a report from Bloomberg News, the lawsuits name some of the biggest frackers in the industry as defendants, including Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Southwest Energy Company.

Perhaps the most famous lawsuit filed so far was brought in Pennsylvania, by residents of the small village of Dimock.  State regulators blamed Cabot’s fracking for methane contamination of  water sources, and in one case, causing a water well to explode in August 2009.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started providing fresh water to four Dimock families, plans to test water at 60 homes to assess whether residents have been exposed to hazardous substances. A trial is scheduled to get underway in Scranton federal court in April, and the 23 Dimock families involved in the lawsuit have asked the court to classify fracturing as inherently dangerous, a designation that may make it easier to win damages, Bloomberg said.

Cabot denies its fracking caused the contamination.  However, in an agreement with the state, Cabot established a $4.1 million fund that the 19 families with polluted wells could draw from

Several families in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania have sued Southwest Energy, claiming drilling activities fouled their water wells.  In December, Chesapeake settled a lawsuit by paying $15,000 to two Texas landowners who claimed the company polluted their well,

Plaintiffs in these lawsuits will have to prove that chemicals from natural gas wells reached groundwater, or that fracking allowed naturally occurring methane to migrate into water wells.  Earlier this year, their cases got boost when the EPA linked pollution in some Pavillion, Wyoming water wells to fracking being performed by EnCana Corp.  It was the first time that fracking was linked to water pollution, but EnCana is disputing the agency's findings.

According to Bloomberg, attorneys are closely watching the case to see if it proves to be the first instance that fracking itself, not just general drilling activities, created a problem. Any finding on the Pavillion situation that “demonstrates that fracking has or may have negative health effects will be beneficial to the plaintiff’s bar and would increase the number of lawsuits filed,” one lawyer told Bloomberg News.

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