BY LAURA LEGERE
Legal releases delivered Thursday by the gas company deemed responsible for methane contamination in Dimock Twp. water wells have some township residents accusing the driller of using “dirty, dirty tricks” to try to free itself of a lawsuit pending in federal court.
Early Thursday morning, attorneys for Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. delivered documents to 19 Dimock families who will split $4.1 million as part of a settlement announced 14 hours earlier between the Texas-based driller and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Each family is entitled to a payment worth twice the value of its home as a remedy for methane in the drinking water that DEP linked to faulty Cabot gas wells. Under the agreement worked out between the company and the state, Cabot must put each family’s share of the money in escrow accounts that the residents can access after 30 days at the earliest.
DEP Secretary John Hanger emphasized when announcing the settlement that it carried “no requirement” for the families to drop the federal lawsuit that 11 of them have filed against Cabot alleging broader harm and damages to their health and property.
But the letter Cabot delivered Thursday offered a different deal: the families were asked to release the company from all legal claims against it in exchange for receiving the money.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said the offer was intended only as a way to speed up the payments.
“It is a way in which they can get their payment now, immediately, and we’ve heard from some that they’d like that to be an option,” he said. “The other option is to wait for the escrows to be fully funded, which would be about 30 days, and then they can draw their dollars down from there.”
“They are under no obligation one way or another to sign or not to sign,” he added.
The families’ attorney, Leslie Lewis, said the Cabot document contained no information that identified it as an optional offer to speed up the payments.
“It really doesn’t say that,” she said.
“It was an effort to acquire a waiver for all present and future claims in exchange for this money. They tried to slip something by.”
The families called the letter a ploy meant to appeal to the poorest and most vulnerable among them.
“They’re sneaky,” resident Julie Sautner said.
“There may be people that are desperate but nobody is that desperate. We’re going to wait.”