Another favoured activist claim goes up in flames

April 6th, 2017

A US federal judge has overturned a judgement and ordered a retrial in a highly publicised court case that became a cause celebre for the global activist community.

The case centred on claims that oil and gas exploration activities had impacted domestic water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

The claims became a rallying point for anti-industry activists, and featured in the Gasland ‘documentary’ from celebrity fractivist Josh Fox.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson last week threw out the $4.2 million nuisance verdict against Cabot Oil and Gas, citing “substantial and varied weaknesses” and “serious and troubling irregularities in testimony” by the plaintiffs.

It’s a complex case, but the simple version is that the plaintiffs claimed gas exploration and development and hydraulic fracturing had caused gas to migrate and contaminate water supplies.

One of the star witnesses for the plaintiffs was Tony Ingraffea – who is often put forward by Australian activists including Lock the Gate and Frack Free WA as a credible source of information, and who has given evidence via videoconference to forums including the South Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into unconventional gas development.

On Professor Ingraffea, Judge Carlson said:

“(t)he weakness in his testimony contributes substantially to the Court’s finding that a new trial is necessary because the verdict was contrary to the great weight of the evidence that was presented.”

And:

“Dr. Ingraffea also conceded that he had no direct proof of this theory of gas migration. In fact, at one juncture, Dr. Ingraffea agreed with Cabot’s counsel that his opinion could be referred to as speculative. This admission is nearly fatal to this expert testimony, particularly when coupled with (Paul) Rubin’s limited opinion…” 

But the judge wasn’t finished yet. On the theory of gas migration:

““This theory is difficult enough to believe on its own, but especially so when considered against evidence which strongly suggested these water wells were not fed by a single source, and were not even connected to one another. Dr. Ingraffea conceded that this multi-part theory was based substantially upon speculation, and that he had no proof to support it.” 

It’s a solid judgment, and this piece from Energy in Depth gives more detail.

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