US oil exploration company Coterra Energy has pleaded “no contest” to water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania, US. The company will now face fines of $16.29m to build a new water supply system, the state attorney general said on Tuesday.

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General filed charges against Coterra Energy in 2020 following a grand jury inquiry into contaminated well water in Dimock, Susquehanna County. 

This examination indicated that the company’s operations related to drilling and producing unconventional gas wells caused methane pollution in the local water supply.

Several residents testified during the investigation. They told the inquiry that water in the area was so polluted that, in some cases, it caught fire. Metal contaminants and excessive methane caused residents to stop drinking water.

When one resident called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, they were promised to cleanse the water again in several years. At the time of their appearance before the grand jury a decade later, the problem remained unresolved.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said: “Residents of Dimock have waited far too long for the clean water Pennsylvania’s constitution is supposed to guarantee all of us. Today, Coterra, the corporate successor of Cabot Oil and Gas, took full responsibility for the crimes Cabot committed that polluted residents’ water.”

Coterra pleaded guilty to breaching the ‘Clean Streams Law’ by discharging industrial waste. As part of the plea agreement, the company will pay $16.29m towards a new regulated public water line and 75 years of water bills for the impacted homeowners. The government will also use this money to provide purification systems for water sources and bottled water while the public water line remains under construction.