Friday, April 16, 2010

PA to Cabot: Plug wells, Provide water, Pay up - oh, and no drilling until you do

Yesterday, April 15, the PA DEP took aggressive action against Cabot Oil & Gas in an attempt to enforce environmental laws meant to protect the public. DEP ordered Cabot to plug three wells within the next 40 days. These wells are believed to be the source of migrating gas that has contaminated groundwater and the drinking water supplies of 14 homes in the region. Cabot must also install permanent treatment systems in those homes within 30 days.

In addition, DEP Secretary John Hanger said DEP is immediately suspending review of all Cabot’s pending permit applications for new drilling activities statewide until it fulfills its obligations. Furthermore, DEP is prohibiting Cabot from drilling any new wells for at least one year in the Dimock Township area. 

“Cabot had every opportunity to correct these violations but failed to do so," said Hangar, referring to Cabot’s failure to abide by the terms of a November 2009 consent order and agreement with DEP. Instead, he said, "the company ignored its responsibilities to safeguard citizens and to protect the natural resources there." During recent inspections, DEP identified five additional defective Cabot gas wells and another home water supply that has been affected by gas migration, bringing to 14 the number of impacted water supplies in the Dimock area.

Cabot paid a $240,000 fine that was deposited into PA's well-plugging account. Now Cabot is obliged to pay $30,000 per month beginning in May - until DEP has determined that the company has met its obligations under the 2009 order.

“Companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale have the legal responsibility to design and construct their wells to keep all gas contained within the wells and to prevent gas from moving into fresh groundwater. These standards are not mere suggestions or recommendations,” Hanger said.

What NY needs to learn from PA's experience is that we need strong regulations and vigilant inspections of all aspects of the natural gas industry. Just this week DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis admitted his agency is understaffed and overworked as they try to develop the regulations for high-volume hydrofracking & horizontal drilling for Marcellus Shale. And residents at a meeting down in Athens Monday night said, "New Yorkers should learn from our mistakes." They were a bit miffed at being the guinea pigs for Marcellus drilling, but sincere in their hope that their northern neighbor would end up with better environmental safeguards.

1 comment:

  1. We need to insist that DEC/Gov. Patterson conduct holistic, integrated studies of all types of economic impact -- a prerequisite for any competent analysis of the net effect of widespread hydrofracking. State officials need to assess more than short-term economic gains from drilling jobs and associated activities. These may be far outweighed by losses to other job sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and recreation, and by both short and long-term costs unfairly borne by taxpayers.

    New York residents need to agree on what principles will guide us in making decisions involving unequally shared risks and benefits. The principles of Justice as Fairness, Polluter Pays, and the Precautionary Principle are all invoked by the decisions facing NYS.