Litigants and Leaflets Make an Unlikely Pairing
As we have covered recently Dimock, PA finds itself in the headlines again as recently the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) declared that Cabot Oil and Gas has met all the terms of their consent decree and as a result no longer needs to supply a temporary potable water supply to residents there. This decision was made after years of Cabot working with the community and affected residents and an extensive investigation by DEP. While many in Dimock welcomed this news with open arms in hopes their community could move on from the controversies of the past, it appears this may not be the case. Unfortunately, due to a vocal minority of residents and a paper that seems to give creedence to every allegation in regards to natural gas production, its seems this story will continue, for now.
On October 18th, 2011 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a letter declaring that Cabot Oil and Gas had fulfilled all obligations required under their consent decree and therefore no longer need to deliver water to affected Dimock residents beginning November 30. Despite claims by some litigants there, DEP has followed procedure, stuck to the science, and has followed the letter of the law. See for yourself, water test results are here and an explanation of anomalies in water tests here.
However, this development is not the end of the story, rather it seems to be the beginning of another chapter. Nearly immediately following the announcement ceasing water deliveries, lawyers representing litigants fighting Cabot went on a full offensive assault writing PA DEP and asking for the decision to be reversed. A development reported by the Scranton Times-Tribune. The message and tactics of the litigants and their representation remain the same, obfuscate, bait and switch, and try to win the battle in the court of public opinion as opposed to a court of law which examines pesky things like facts.
The Latest Front- Hide the Truth by Obscuring Facts- Gain Public Allies
According to the Times-Tribune report, in the attorney’s letter to DEP he challended DEP’s claims that water in Dimock, specifically the litigants, is safe for consumption. The article reads that “tests” over the past 22 months show elevated levels of lead, aluminum, iron, toluene, methane and manganese in some of the water supplies, as well as detection of chemicals found in synthetic sands, hydraulic fluid and antifreeze that “are not naturally occurring and that are associated with natural gas drilling.”
The lawyer argues that Cabot has misrepresented or selectively reported water-quality test results and also charged DEP with colluding with and “coddling” Cabot. Sounds like the litigants picked the perfect attorney to represent them, they are all on message. Of course, he is well trained as he has employed the first steps in any good legal proceeding: 1) Gain public allies and 2) Do everything in your power to confuse the message, instill doubt in the populace and make your opponent look power-hungry and out of touch with the local community.
In pursuit of that tactic one accusation was that Cabot has selectively picked water-quality test results. Interesting claim, lets look a bit further. The fact of the matter is that Cabot has shared every water test conducted with PA DEP. Every single test. Tests results they could not share were from the most vocal litigants in the case as these families have not allowed any testing of their water well- which we might add is a clear requirement in the consent decree agreed to by all parties. The last tests Cabot was allowed to conduct on these properties show that these wells met all drinking water standards. Of course, unlike a court of law one is allowed to ask leading questions in the court of public opinion. Questions like:
- why won’t you allow access to Cabot or DEP inspectors?
- If there is no impartial arbiter you will allow to check your well how do we know your results can be trusted, or that you are not engaging in activities to distort any data that may be gathered?
Seems to me this is a pretty easy task and one potential reason why a resident might not let the proper authorities anywhere near their water well.
Yet, the situation remains the same. The Sautners, and others, continue to yell to anyone that will listen that their water is tainted and they have the data to prove it- they just won’t share that data with anyone. Although it seems you don’t really need hard data to get an endorsement from the Scranton Times-Tribune, just ask their editorial board who recently threw their unequivocal support behind the litigants (enter public ally).
Given their history of reporting on this matter we can’t say we are surprised as they seem to continually advance a subtle narrative designed to villanize the natural gas industry. One example of many, in reporting on a recent Penn State study which clearly showed natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing doesn’t impact water supplies their headline read “Study finds bromide- but no fracking impacts- in water after drilling“. Yes, the study did find Bromide in 2 out of 27 wells sampled near natural gas operations that had been developed and fractured. What the Times didn’t tell you is the inconvenient fact that the U.S. EPA has no drinking water standard for Bromide as it does not impact public health. The only way Bromide can possibly impact health is if it is found in high levels, which it was not, and is treated with chlorination- a treatment system many private water well users don’t utilize.
Don’t worry though disparaging natural gas companies at every turn won’t keep the Times parent company Times-Shamrock from raking in significant income from the industry. This is noticeable by their ad-filled stand alone publication The Northeast Driller which highlights developments in the industry.
Distortion of Testing Data to Deceive the Public
So with step one complete on to step two obfuscate data. This is much easier step as most folks in the general public really don’t know how to digest water testing results and the units of measure utilized to determine the amount of these contaminants. In his letter to DEP the attorney for the plaintiffs obfuscated his data in a number of ways.
- First, the data he selects is conveniently selected from different times and different locations to paint a picture of a worst-case scenario which is not true to facts. This is noticeable in the fact that the most recent tests conducted on the Sautner’s well showed it meets all drinking water standards.
- Second, list any contaminant possible regardless of its connection to natural gas and let the public try to figure that its not connected to natural gas. Example, Toluene is one contaminant the attorney touts. What he neglects to include in the letter is that Toluene is not a component Cabot utilizes at any stage and in any process of their operations.
- Third, mix sample sizes and finding to create an alarming-and inaccurate- set of findings that do not represent actual samples taken of the samples being discussed. It’s easy really, just use the smallest level of measurement to make it seem that the levels of contaminants are greater than they actually are. When engaging in this type of coordinated and deceptive behavior be sure not too mention that even when this occurs that the water samples in question do not exceed background, or de-minimis levels, and as a result meet all drinking water standards-which they do.
So, it appears we are in another, hopefully the final, chapter of the Dimock story. Luckily, PA DEP focuses on facts as do most courts of law. Eventually, the public will tire of hearing the Sautner’s and their paid counsel. They will grow tired of the lies, distortion and deceit inherent in their arguments. Indeed, some could argue the public already has. A good example of this can be seen in events over the summer. In July, Cabot Oil and Gas held a family picnic which drew nearly 4,000 attendees months later the Sautner’s and their friends held a march to protest their “ruined” water supply, the event drew six individuals from the local community mixed in with supporters from New York. Sounds like the litigants have much work to do in their attempts to villanize Cabot Oil and Gas. Certainly we can expect more from the litigants counsel, after all that’s what he is paid to accomplish.
However, an interesting twist is their ally the Scranton Times, whose objective is supposed to be furthering an impartial and informative public discussion, seems to be all in as well. Word on the street is the Times is already working on another hit piece which if held for six short weeks would result in a much more informative discussion of facts given a pending investigation on the claim they intend to highlight will be completed. The Times knows this. If the idea is to present objective facts to the public for discussion one must ask what’s the rush?