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Firm denies methane liability

April 17, 2012
By CASEY JUNKINS - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

CAMERON - Attorneys for Chesapeake Energy deny that drilling and fracking resulted in the methane contamination of Jeremiah Magers' drinking water well, claiming any possible pollution was beyond the company's control.

Magers believes Chesapeake's fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, led to the methane contamination of his drinking water well, so he is suing the natural gas driller for failing to provide an alternative water source. However, the driller admits it has not provided Magers with a fresh water supply because Chesapeake has no obligation to do so, attorneys assert.

Chesapeake "... denies that the presence of methane in plaintiffs' water constitutes a hazard resulting in plaintiffs' inability to use water from their well in their home ..." the company's answer to Magers' complaint states, noting Chesapeake is "without knowledge or information" as to how methane infiltrated the water well.

Magers previously reported his water well became contaminated with methane - and that natural gas began bubbling in Fish Creek - shortly after Chesapeake began fracking at a production site roughly 1,200 feet from Magers' water tank. Chesapeake officials previously confirmed the presence of methane in Magers' water well, but denied that their operations generated the gas.

The case originally filed in Marshall County Circuit Court in February later shifted to federal court. Magers' attorney, Joseph Canestraro, alleges Chesapeake's failure to provide a fresh water source demonstrates "willful, wanton, intentional, reckless and malicious" behavior, along with "criminal indifference to the obligations it owed to the plaintiffs."

Since 2009, Magers, along with wife Andrea, has been dealing with issues at his residence near Cameron that he believes are directly related to Chesapeake's drilling and fracking operations. In 2010, he said he heard heavy natural gas gurgles and detected a mist coming from his water well, so he called 911.

Magers' complaint reaffirms these allegations, noting, "sufficient gas was present that the plaintiffs could ignite both the water and Fish Creek."

"The defendant has failed to provide the plaintiffs an alternate water supply or compensate them for the contamination of their water well and their costs in purchasing water," the complaint further claims. "The plaintiffs had no need to purchase water prior to their water being contaminated."

Larry Blalock of the Jackson Kelly law firm is Chesapeake's legal counsel for the case. He states that any injuries or damages Magers alleges "were caused solely by the negligence, fault, or conduct of persons, firms, and/or corporations over whom" Chesapeake has no control.

Chesapeake Senior Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak previously said Chesapeake addressed the issues at Magers' property by collecting water samples. She said Chesapeake withdrew its water supply from Magers' home because the company's test results showed the "methane present the water sample did not match the gas from our oil and gas operations."

West Virginia Office of Oil and Gas Chief James Martin previously confirmed his department has investigated the source of Magers' gas problems, but he said the representatives were unable to draw a conclusion regarding the source of the methane. The oil and gas office operates as an arm of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In an area with a long history of coal mining, some officials have speculated the methane in Magers' well could be the result of ongoing or past mining operations near his property.

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