Gas driller pulls out of talks in $5M suit against resident by Associated Press, Mar 5, 2020, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One of Pennsylvania’s largest gas drillers pulled out of settlement talks aimed at resolving its $5 million lawsuit against a resident whose drinking water was contaminated and who has spent years bashing the energy industry.
Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. sued Dimock, Pa., resident Ray Kemble and his former lawyers in 2017, claiming they tried to extort the company through frivolous litigation. Cabot also claims Mr. Kemble violated a 2012 settlement agreement by repeatedly “spouting lies” about the company in public.
Dimock is in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Mr. Kemble, a high-profile fracking opponent who has traveled the country talking about his experiences with the gas industry, charges that Cabot is trying to shut him up.
The company, which has drilled hundreds of wells in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, pulled out of a settlement conference scheduled for Friday because the parties have made “no progress” toward a settlement, Cabot said in a legal filing.
Mr. Kemble’s former lawyers, in turn, accused the driller of failing to negotiate in good faith, calling its withdrawal from talks “an indication that this action was not intended to seek compensatory damages, but instead an attempt to harass, embarrass and annoy the defendants.”
An email was sent to Cabot spokesman George Stark on Thursday seeking comment on the case, which, for now, remains on a path toward trial.
Mr. Kemble and others have long accused Cabot of polluting their water supplies, a claim that formed the basis of the Emmy-winning 2010 documentary “Gasland.”
State regulators held Cabot responsible for polluting residential water wells and banned it from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock, a rural community 150 miles north of Philadelphia.
Cabot, which has long denied responsibility, has been waging a fierce PR and legal campaign against Mr. Kemble and other fracking opponents who the company says are funded by deep-pocketed environmental groups to spread falsehoods about Cabot. The company, which is publicly traded, has said it sees the litigation against Mr. Kemble and his former lawyers as a way to defend itself from scurrilous attacks.
But Mr. Stark, who was deposed by the defendants’ lawyers in January, was largely unable to identify specific economic damages suffered by Cabot as a result of Mr. Kemble’s short-lived federal lawsuit. Mr. Kemble’s suit had accused Cabot of polluting his water supply anew.
Under questioning, Mr. Stark asserted that Cabot’s reputation was harmed by Mr. Kemble. But he added: “From the standpoint of the ongoing basis, I can’t even ascertain what the damages would be,” according to a transcript.
Documents filed as part of the case show that both sides are far apart in resolving their differences.
Mr. Kemble’s former law firms offered $50,000 to settle, asserting that Cabot itself could only substantiate damages of $90,000 for legal bills it incurred in 2017. Cabot, in turn, offered to settle for $3 million — the limits of the law firms’ malpractice insurance policies.
Mr. Kemble’s current lawyer has not offered a monetary settlement, demanding that Cabot dismiss Mr. Kemble from the case.
In his deposition, Mr. Stark asserted that Mr. Kemble and others had perpetuated a “hoax” that gas drilling had polluted the water. At one point, the company sought to have Mr. Kemble thrown in jail for failing to appear at depositions.
The judge overseeing the case has previously criticized the company for its $5 million demand, saying Cabot announced the large sum in order to generate headlines.
Gas driller Cabot wants Dimock man thrown in jail for contempt by Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press, Feb 1, 2019, State Impact
A gas driller is escalating its campaign against a Pennsylvania homeowner who’s long accused the company of polluting his water, demanding that he be thrown in jail over his failure to submit to questioning as part of the company’s $5 million lawsuit against him.
… In court papers filed this month, Cabot said Kemble had skipped two depositions in the case, and asked a judge to hold him in contempt and put him behind bars until he meets with the company’s lawyers. Kemble, who has said he has cancer, said he was unable to go the depositions because of his poor health. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Kemble, who has traveled the country speaking about his experiences with the gas industry, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. But an environmental group that has worked with him for years blasted Cabot’s aggressive posture.
“To try to put a man like Ray Kemble in jail speaks volumes about the decency of this industry,” said Scott Edwards, an environmental lawyer at Food & Water Watch. “It’s an outrage.”
Cabot contends Kemble and two of his allies — whom the company is also seeking to depose — have “made a mockery” of the court and “conspired to derail this litigation and conceal evidence.” It called Kemble a “paid mouthpiece and jug carrier for national anti-industry activist groups.”
The vitriol is nothing new in Dimock, a tiny crossroads in the heart of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale rock formation in northeastern Pennsylvania. It became a major battleground in the national fight over shale gas drilling and fracking after Kemble and more than a dozen other residents sued Cabot nearly a decade ago, contending the company had polluted their water supplies. Cabot denied the claims but settled the suit.
Separately, Pennsylvania environmental regulators held Cabot responsible for fouling residential water wells and prohibited it from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock, a ban that remains in place despite Cabot’s attempt to lift it.
Kemble alleges Cabot wrecked his finances, health and quality of life. He’s trying to get Cabot’s suit tossed.
“The water contamination here, the diesel fumes, the 24×7 truck traffic, noise and light, and now this harassment, all at the hands of Cabot have literally ruined my life,” he wrote last September in a letter he tried delivering to the judge overseeing his case.
Federal government scientists went to Dimock in 2017 to test the water for methane and a range of chemicals but are still analyzing the results. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry intends to release a public report on the findings.
Refer also to:
Nasty Read! How a Judge Scrapped Pennsylvania Families’ $4.24M Water Pollution Jury Verdict in Gas Drilling Lawsuit and orders them to settle ‘n gag with Cabot
Dimock Pennsylvania: In ‘Gasland’ community, Cabot Oil & Gas continues to refuse to fix the aquifer the company contaminated with dangerous levels of methane but buys out contaminated homes, demolishing them, while blaming nature.
EPA Fracking Study Rebukes Agency’s Own Safety Claims, DeSmog Exclusive: Censored EPA PA fracking water contamination In Dimock, opponent neither surprised nor hopeful over EPA leak of information on water contaminated with methane
Pa.drilling town agrees to settlement in fracking federal lawsuit, Documents indicate that residents of Dimock Township, Pa., who claim their water was poisoned by fracking, have reached a confidential settlement in a lawsuit that has been ongoing since 2009
The approval, which came 24 hours after the natural gas driller requested to halt the deliveries, shocked and upset the residents who have relied on the replacement water for drinking, bathing and washing for nearly three years while regulators determined that faulty Cabot Marcellus Shale gas wells allowed methane to seep into their water…. Eleven of the 18 affected water supplies are owned by families suing the company.
“There’s no way, there’s no way I’m hooking this well up to my house,” Scott Ely said….
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) chief John Hanger on Thursday unveiled a plan to install a nearly $12 million public water line to replace contaminated water wells in Dimock Parish, despite a claim by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. — which may have to pay for the project — that the water line is “wasteful” and “unnecessary.”
The affected residents of Dimock Township in Susquehanna County are to receive public water service from Pennsylvania American Water Co. (PAWC), which would replace the private wells that Hanger said were “contaminated with methane gas migrating from poorly constructed natural gas wells.” He made the announcement at a press conference.
The state and the water company are proceeding with construction and “will seek to recover the cost of the project from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., whose wells are responsible for the gas migration problems in the township,” said the DEP Secretary.
“The residents of Dimock have waited long enough for Cabot to provide a permanent solution to the gas migration issues that have plagued this community’s water supplies,” Hanger said.
The agreement with PAWC would extend public water lines from Montrose, PA, to the Dimock area to “provide a safe, dependable water supply to residents here.”
Gas migration problems in Dimock first became evident, noted Hanger, when a private water well exploded on Jan. 1, 2009 (see Daily GPI, Jan. 26, 2009). A DEP investigation found that methane gas from a shallow formation had been disturbed and migrated “through poorly constructed wells Cabot built while drilling for the much deeper Marcellus Shale formation,” he noted.
In April DEP ordered Cabot to plug three operating gas wells in the township and take remedial action on a fourth well to address gas migration that had contaminated 14 water supplies (see Daily GPI, April 19). In addition, DEP fined Cabot $240,000 and ordered the company to install permanent treatment systems in 14 homes within 30 days. Cabot also was prohibited from drilling any new wells in a nine-square-mile area around Dimock….
Earlier this month DEP investigators determined that three additional water supplies serving four residences had been contaminated by migrating gas caused by Cabot’s drilling activities, which the Houston-based producer disputed (see Daily GPI, Sept. 22).
“The problems in Dimock were caused by Cabot’s failure to construct their natural gas wells properly, and we are holding them responsible for the damage caused by these wells,” Hanger said. “We intend to proceed with construction of a public water system for the Dimock area and will seek recovery of costs from Cabot Oil & Gas.”
PAWC plans to construct a 5.5-mile water main from the company’s Lake Montrose water treatment plant south to Dimock and install about seven miles of distribution line to provide water service to at least 18 homes. The solution to the drinking water needs in Dimock “will also make this basic resource accessible to other residents along Route 29 not currently served by public water,” DEP stated. PAWC also plans to install pressure regulating stations and a new treatment facility to serve the community.
The waterline extension and associated facilities is estimated to cost $11.8 million.
“Pennsylvania American has proven itself to be a reliable source of quality drinking water to more than two million Pennsylvanians,” said Hanger. “I am disappointed that Cabot has chosen not to embrace this opportunity to put these events behind us and allow everyone involved in this difficult matter to move forward.”
Cabot officials, who did not attend the press conference, earlier this week pushed back against DEP’s assertions that the company caused the water contamination.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Hanger, Cabot CEO Dan O. Dinges accused DEP of using threats to force the company to correct the water well contamination problem. The letter also referred to a meeting apparently on Monday between the Cabot CEO and DEP representatives where state officials “agreed that more time is necessary” to determine “whether Cabot’s operations are impacting water supplies.”
Leslie Lewis, who is representing some of the Dimock families who are suing Cabot over the contamination, criticized the producer in a statement on Wednesday.
“Cabot’s last-ditch efforts to derail the secretary and governor’s directive to install a centrally sourced water supply to affected residents of Dimock…are both audacious and pathetic,” Lewis said.