Impacted Families Settle With Gas Giant For $1.6M Without Gag Order
In what may be the first fracking contamination settlement signed without a gag order, Chesapeake Energy has agreed to pay three Bradford County families with polluted water wells $1.6 million. The families bravely refused to sign the agreement Chesapeake sought to keep the facts of the case under wraps.
The families, neighbors on Paradise Road, on Wells Mountain, sued Chesapeake after methane contaminated their houses and chemicals poisoned their water, forcing them from their homes. The families’ lawyers and experts established during the litigation that the contamination stemmed from a botched cement job on a nearby Chesapeake gas drilling well, a disturbingly common problem affecting one out of every sixteen drilling wells in Pennsylvania.
Protecting Our Waters spoke with Jared McMicken, whose family of four has been wrenched from the house they built and is now looking for land elsewhere in the Wyalusing area. His family had to evacuate their house, as methane was leaking into it. A methane leak, of course, creates the danger of explosions. The McMicken family’s water was bubbling like seltzer. The McMickens and their neighbors join the growing ranks of fracking refugees.
“We tried everything to work with them,” McMicken explains of Chesapeake, “but they gave us the cold shoulder.” When the McMickens and their neighbors brought Chesapeake to court, Chesapeake folded. “They had no defense. They knew they screwed up, they just wanted to get out of it.”
Chesapeake unsurprisingly denies all wrongdoing, stating that it had not conducted pre-drilling tests of the water to see if there was contamination already, thereby implying that the traumatic experiences of those on Paradise Road just coincidentally occurred after Chesapeake started fracking next door. This is a familiar refrain. But McMicken himself debunked that, having had the water tested before the drilling began and finding no problems with it then.
Through two years of contamination and dislocation, Chesapeake has never apologized to the McMickens. And while the settlement may allow the McMicken family to move to uncontaminated land, McMicken is worried about the families living downriver from the contamination. Todd O’Malley, a lawyer representing two of the Paradise Road families, stressed the importance of the families’ refusal to bow to Chesapeake’s pressure to sign a nondisclosure agreement, allowing the story of the McMickens and their neighbors to be told. Justice will prevail, he predicted, “when Chesapeake realizes people will take them to the mat.”