A federal jury awarded landowners $4.24 million Thursday in a closely watched case on allegations that hydraulic fracturing contaminated well water.
The Pennsylvania jury concluded that Cabot Oil and Gas Co. was negligent in drilling wells near two families’ properties, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports.
Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely and Ray and Victoria Hubert sued Cabot in 2009, saying that the methane in their well water was due to Cabot’s fracking for natural gas.
The case, originating in Dimock, Pa., has been closely watched around the country.
To environmentalists, it’s a concrete example that fracking, which has increased substantially over the last decade, can harm wastewater supplies and pollute drinking water. Dimock was featured prominently in the 2010 documentary "Gasland" about allegations of environmental harms from fracking.
The decision is a major loss for Cabot, which maintains that its well was properly constructed and operated and that it did not cause any pollution. Cabot is planning to appeal the decision and is accusing the plaintiff’s lawyer of bringing in excluded evidence that biased the jury.
“Cabot is surprised at the jury's verdict given the lack of evidence provided by plaintiffs in support of their nuisance claim,” Cabot said in a statement. “The verdict disregards overwhelming scientific and factual evidence that Cabot acted as a prudent operator in conducting its operations.”
It’s also a loss for the gas industry, which has pushed back for years against claims that fracking is harmful.
“It’s very important that when a company like Cabot harms Pennsylvania families … that the courts are a sanctuary for people to seek justice,” the families’ attorney, Leslie Lewis, said in closing arguments Wednesday, according to the Times-Tribune.
The jury had deliberated for more than eight hours before reaching its verdict.