SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) - A drilling company that conducted natural gas "fracking" in the Marcellus Shale can access the medical records of citizens demanding medical monitoring for pollution exposure, a court-appointed official said.
Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a drilling technique that uses pressurized water to fracture subterranean rock and release petroleum and gas. Having drawn the ire of environmentalists and other groups, it is also the basis of a massive 2009 lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas.
Last week, special Master Jennifer Clark sided with the Houston-based gas company, which wants to see the medical records of the 62 claimants. Though 38 of the plaintiffs had only alleged claims for medical monitoring, as opposed to the 24 who also allege personal injury, Clark agreed that their records "are relevant to plaintiffs' claims as well as defendants' defense, and are therefore discoverable."
The 62 plaintiffs leased gas rights for land in a 9-mile tract of rural Dimock, Pa., a northeastern township along the New York border.
Dimock sits atop a vast rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which contains massive natural gas reserves that have drawn the frenzied attention of drillers in recent years. It has been characterized as the "ground zero" for Marcellus Shale drilling operations.
Lead plaintiff Norma Fiorentino says her drinking-water well exploded on New Year's Day in 2009. State officials found that Fiorentino's well explosion, and several others, may have occurred when a pump sparked and ignited methane-infused water. In April 2010, the state environmental protection department ordered Cabot to plug three wells in the area and pay a $240,000 fine because methane had migrated from the defective wells and contaminated drinking water used in 14 homes.