Plea hearing scheduled in ‘Gasland’ drilling pollution case

MONTROSE, Pa. (AP) — A plea hearing has been scheduled for next week in the long-running case of a natural gas driller facing felony charges over allegations it polluted the aquifer of a small Pennsylvania community 14 years ago.

Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc. will appear in Susquehanna County Court on Tuesday, according to online court records.

Coterra’s corporate predecessor, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., was charged in June 2020 with 15 criminal counts after a grand jury investigation found the company drilled faulty gas wells that leaked flammable methane into residential water supplies in Dimock and surrounding communities.

Dimock drew national notoriety after residents were filmed lighting their tap water on fire in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland,” one of the most notorious pollution cases ever to emerge from the U.S. drilling and fracking boom. The tiny crossroads in northeastern Pennsylvania is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the New York state line.

Many residents continue to avoid using their well water, using bottled water, bulk water purchased commercially, and even water drawn from creeks and artesian wells instead.

Cabot, which merged with Denver-based Cimarex Energy Co. to form Coterra, has long maintained the gas in residents’ water was naturally occurring.

Ahead of the plea hearing, top officials in the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting Coterra, briefed Dimock residents earlier this week on a plan to connect their houses to a clean source of water.

The plan calls for Pennsylvania American Water, a water utility, to drill two water wells and build a treatment plant that will remove any contaminants from the water before piping it to about 20 homes in Dimock.

Messages were sent to the attorney general’s office and to Coterra on Wednesday seeking details about the upcoming plea hearing.

On Tuesday, the company — the most prolific driller in the nation’s No. 2 natural gas-producing state — said it was working to resolve the criminal charges.

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