* Nineteen families in Dimock to receive at least $50,000
* Future of the town’s water supply remains uncertain
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Cabot Oil & Gas agreed to pay residents of the town of Dimock $4.1 million in compensation for contamination of their water wells with natural gas under a deal it made with state regulators.
The deal, announced by state environmental officials on Wednesday, helps resolve an ongoing conflict in the town in northeast Pennsylvania that became one of the first to raise concerns about the environmental impact of the shale gas boom in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.
Cabot, a gas-driller and a constituent on the Thomson Reuters Shale Gas Index , previously had been penalized by regulators for leakage of natural gas and chemical spills in Dimock.
Environmentalists have also raised concerns about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which a mixture of sand, water and chemicals is blasted into shale deep beneath the surface to free trapped gas.
The amount paid to each of 19 affected families will equal twice the value of their homes, with a minimum payment of $50,000, according to the settlement reached with Cabot by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The company will also pay the state $500,000 to offset the expense of investigating gas leaks that have affected residents of the northeast Pennsylvania town for two years.
“The 19 families who have been living under very difficult conditions for far too long will receive a financial settlement that will allow them to address their own circumstances in their own way,” DEP Secretary John Hanger said in a statement.
Cabot said in a statement the agreement provides a “reasonable and pragmatic way forward” for all parties.
The agreement allows the company to resume well completion operations in the area of Dimock that has been affected by methane leaks, it said.
In late 2009, a group of Dimock residents sued Cabot for contaminating their wells and hurting the value of their real estate.
Ron Carter, one of the litigants, said late on Wednesday that he and his wife Jean would receive $344,000 under the new settlement but he didn’t know whether that would enable him to resume using water from his private well.
“I think we got screwed,” said Carter, 71. “If your water isn’t any good, whatever money they give you isn’t going to correct the water.”
For the last year, Carter has been using water from a system paid for by Cabot but that would be withdrawn within 45 days if he accepts the settlement, he said.
A state plan to install a water main in Dimock at a cost of $11.8 million has now been abandoned because of opposition to the project and its uncertain future, Hanger said.
In April 2010, the DEP ordered Cabot to cap three wells believed to be the source of methane that was migrating into private water wells. (Reporting by Jon Hurdle, editing by Daniel Trotta and Muralikumar Anantharaman)