By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
DIMOCK TWP. - On a bright fall day in 2008, Scott Ely arrived at the natural gas well a few hundred feet from his home to find work strangely stilled.
His fellow employees of Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.'s drilling subsidiary were watching the only thing moving: a huge plume of gas "like Niagara Falls going upwards" buffeting the drilling rig from below, he remembered.
The gas in the air was sickening.
"They told me they hit a methane pocket," he said. "We're waiting for Cabot to tell us what to do, whether we should try to punch through it or plug it."
They punched through it - a pocket of shallow gas about 1,500 feet down that pumped out the equivalent of 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day, according to a report later commissioned by Cabot.
When drilling was finished, muddy puddles on the pad bubbled with the gas seeping through the gravel.
"Right next to the wellhead it looked like 1,000 Alka-Seltzers going off," he said.
Mr. Ely, a GasSearch Drilling Services employee from spring 2008 until mid-2010, is one of more than a dozen Dimock residents suing the company because of what happened next: his family, including three small children, began to get cramps, rashes and headaches. Months after Mr. Ely noted something was not right with his water and first warned his employer to test it, a company representative asked his family to evacuate to a Tunkhannock hotel because dangerous levels of methane seeped into the home with every shower or load of laundry.
Now, state officials have found that Cabot met the obligations necessary for the driller to stop delivering replacement bottled and bulk water to 19 homes, including Mr. Ely's, where the methane tainting the water has been linked to Cabot's faulty wells.
"I said, 'So you want them to test where there's no hot dirt?' " he recalled. "He said, 'That's the idea.' "