Gas driller waived his right to a preliminary hearing on criminal charges for acting with “long-term indifference” to a Pennsylvania community where high levels of methane have seeped into groundwater supplies residential
A gas driller on Friday waived his right to a preliminary hearing on criminal charges for polluting the aquifer of a Pennsylvania community where high levels of methane have entered residents’ drinking water wells.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. was charged in 2020 with breaking state environmental laws after a grand jury investigation found that the Houston-based driller failed to repair faulty gas wells that were spilling methane into the groundwater from Dimock and surrounding communities. The grand jury criticized what it called “Cabot’s long-term indifference to the damage he has caused to the environment and to the citizens of Susquehanna County.”
A preliminary hearing in the case has been repeatedly postponed before the company’s lawyer formally waived it on Friday.
The waiver means the charges are referred to Susquehanna County Court for possible trial, although the drilling giant says it has been in talks with the attorney general’s office over an “out-of-court resolution” to the case.
“Cabot’s decision to waive his right to a preliminary hearing is another successful step in our case against this defendant. While this is only part of the legal process, it is also an acknowledgment that there is sufficient evidence against them to continue the criminal process, ”said the attorney general’s office, which is suing Cabot, in a written press release.
The company fought back the grand jury charges and defended its record in the community. Cabot – which merged with Denver-based Cimarex Energy Co. last fall to form a new entity, Coterra Energy Inc. – faces 15 criminal charges, including nine felonies.
George Stark, spokesman for Cabot’s successor, said on Friday: “This waiver demonstrates Coterra’s goal of reaching an out-of-court resolution with the attorney general’s office. We look forward to continuing productive conversations with the Attorney General’s Office. “
Contamination at Dimock became the subject of fierce debate between pro and anti-drilling forces over a decade ago. A 2010 Emmy Award-winning documentary, “Gasland,” showed residents setting tap water on fire. State environmental regulators found Cabot had polluted the water supply and banned him from drilling in a 9 square mile area of Dimock.
Criminal charges haven’t stopped Cabot and now Coterra from doing business. In fact, the company remains Pennsylvania’s most prolific driller. He has drilled 130 more gas wells since the attorney general filed charges on June 15, 2020 – more wells than any other driller in the state, according to data from the Department of Environmental Protection.