Families who refused to settle out of court awarded $4.2 million for the harm caused to their land and lives from fracking
By S. Tom Bond
DIMOCK, Pa. – The controversy over the environmental impact of fracking upon the people and land of Appalachia – especially in the shale fields of Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia – recently took a stunning turn here earlier this month when a jury agreed with two families and awarded them $4.2 million in their lawsuit against Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas. See the article about the settlement on the FrackCheckWV website.
No eminent domain for corporate gain.”
Scott Ely and his wife, Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert of Dimock refused to settle for mediation of their nuisance suit, which was filed in 2009. In doing so, they have done a great thing for all of us. They took the risk of going to court and refused the minimal value offered by the corporation, despite the fact that many of their neighbors settled years ago. This showed publically how the neighborhood valued their property, both its singular and personal value.
This decision shows that the environmental impact of fracking is inextricably linked to fundamental issues such as private property rights and values. The value of property (or friends or anything you like) is not the same as a corporation values it. What a jury of peers does is to value property according to community values – the value as the neighbors understand it, not how the aggressor sees it!
This settlement raises some interesting questions and metaphors. Do you think my wife isn’t worth more to me than she would be worth on the open market? She is 79, grey and somewhat bent, but we get along. I don’t want to adapt to another, and I’d like to keep her around. It’s the same with my farm – I’ve been here for 52 years. I know about its past back to the ones who got the land grants, I know what it can do, and I remember a lifetime of what has gone on here. I have heirs who are interested in working it. Of course it is worth more to me than to a stranger.
What if someone comes along and takes it for his profit? Rest assured, he makes his effort for profit, not for the public good, otherwise it would be cheaper for the public equal to the amount of his profit. Corporations are notorious for their single value outlook, one of the huge ways they are not “persons.” Indeed, their hypocrisy knows no bound. Rex Tillerson, the chairman, president, and CEO of ExxonMobile Corporation and several of his neighbors, include former House Majority Leader Dick Armey – both strong supporters of fracking – sued an energy company in Texas to stop the construction of a water tower close to their property. In their lawsuit, Tillerson, Armey and others argued that the tower – which, if completed, will contain water to be sold to fracking companies – will diminish their property values and cause “discomfort and annoyances to persons.” See here.
Tillerson has learned what those of us living in the fracking fields have known for a decade – almost all personal property is worth more because people don’t use it just for profit. If the compensation is the single value of “market worth,” people get cheated.
There is an element of class warfare in fracking. Few people who aspire to become rich by investment or astronomically high executive salaries are genuinely democratic (small d, of course). Their values and ours don’t match. Indeed, Laura Legere of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Cabot’s attorney Jeremy Mercer described the efforts by the attorney for the Ely and Hubert families as an effort “to throw skunks into the jury box.” This is, indeed, the language of class warfare.
What corporation would be interested in anything but making money? Should enjoying life, appreciating the people around you and preserving the good world around us be considered worthwhile values? Those of us who are stewards of the land entrusted to us believe so.
The court victory by the Elys and Howards should embolden us to preserve and protect the rights that go with our private property, and say together, “No eminent domain for corporate gain.”
© S. Tom Bond, 2016. Bond is a retired chemistry professor and farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.
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