Residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, who have had their drinking water supplies contaminated by natural gas will each receive a share of $4.1 million that Cabot Oil and Gas Co. will pay under a settlement negotiated by the Department of Environmental Protection and the company.
The settlement, which will enable the affected families to address their individual circumstances as they see fit, also binds Cabot to offer and pay to install whole-house gas mitigation devices in each of the 19 affected homes.
Cabot also will pay DEP $500,000 to offset the state's expense of investigating the stray gas migration cases that have plagued Dimock residents for nearly two years.
"The 19 families in Dimock who have been living under very difficult conditions for far too long will receive a financial settlement that will allow them to address their own circumstances in their own way," said DEP Secretary John Hanger, who explained that the amount paid to each family will equal two-times the value of their home, with a minimum payment of $50,000.
"In addition to the significant monetary component of this settlement, there is a requirement that Cabot continue to work with us to ensure that none of their wells allow gas to migrate," Secretary Hanger noted.
"This agreement provides a reasonable and pragmatic way forward for all parties," said Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cabot Oil. "The common ground we found to settle provides the right balance of regulations, financial payments, timely execution and operational safeguards that in the end will protect the resources of Pennsylvania, promote economic development of clean-burning natural gas and continue to create good paying jobs in the natural gas industry.
"We have been committed to responsible operations within Susquehanna County, and we have redoubled our efforts with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources to resolve past issues. Today's announcement signifies a tremendous effort on all sides to move forward with resolution and closure."
DEP began investigating reports of stray gas in Dimock water wells in January 2009. A consent order and agreement signed in November 2009 required Cabot to install whole-house treatment systems in 14 homes, but residents found that action to be unsatisfactory.
The agreement was modified in April 2010 and DEP ordered Cabot to cap three wells believed to be the source of the migrating gas. DEP also suspended its review of Cabot's pending permit applications for new drilling activities statewide and prohibited the company from drilling any new wells in a nine-square-mile area around Dimock.
In September, DEP announced that Pennsylvania American Water Co. would construct a 5.5-mile water main from its Lake Montrose water treatment plant to supply the affected Dimock residents with a reliable source of quality drinking water. In November, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority approved an $11.8 million grant and loan package for the project, with the commonwealth intending to recover the cost of the project from Cabot.
Given the opposition to the planned water line and the uncertain future the project faces, Secretary Hanger said the department would abandon its pursuit of the project.
"Our primary goal at the department has always been to ensure that the wells Cabot drilled in Dimock were safe and that they were not contaminating local private water supplies," said Secretary Hanger. "We've made great progress in doing that. Since we initiated our enforcement actions, gas levels in a majority of the contaminated water wells have gone down significantly. This agreement lays the foundation for families to finally put an end to this ordeal."