Gas driller backs off demand to have landowner thrown in jail

MONTROSE — A gas driller backed off its demand Monday to have a Pennsylvania homeowner thrown in jail after he agreed to talk to the company’s lawyers next month.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. contends Dimock resident Ray Kemble and his former lawyers tried to extort the company through a frivolous federal lawsuit. Cabot also claims Kemble violated a 2012 settlement agreement by speaking ill about the company. Cabot is suing the law firm and Kemble for $5 million.

The company had sought jail time for Kemble after he didn’t show up for a deposition. Kemble, who appeared in court Monday using a walker and stood for the duration of the hearing, said he is unable to sit for long periods after cancer surgery. Cabot agreed to give Kemble time to recover, and the deposition was rescheduled for March.

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 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, said it sees the litigation against Kemble and his former lawyers as a way to defend itself from scurrilous attacks.

“This is not Cabot vs. three landowners. This is Cabot vs. the money that’s behind this. These are paid activists, paid actors on behalf of Food & Water Watch and the like,” Cabot spokesman George Stark said outside court Monday. “Some will say that, you know, again Cabot is going after a local voice. And that’s nothing further from the truth. We are actively going after those that are funding. These billionaire groups are funding these mouthpieces.”

Kemble said it’s Cabot that’s not telling the truth. He said the payments from groups like Water Defense Inc. and Riverkeeper Inc. helped fund bulk water deliveries for Kemble and other affected Dimock residents after Cabot cut them off several years ago. Cabot and other gas companies routinely deliver water to residents who say their wells were ruined by drilling operations.

“Cabot’s entire case against Ray Kemble is a weak attempt to distract people from the harm they’ve caused in Dimock and elsewhere,” said Scott Edwards, a lawyer for Food & Water Watch.

Kemble, who has traveled the country speaking about his experience with the gas industry, asserts Cabot polluted his water supply anew after he and other Dimock homeowners entered into a confidential 2012 settlement of their earlier contamination claims against the company.

“You don’t think I’m going to say something?” he said Monday.

State inspectors have issued about 900 citations to Cabot since the drilling boom began in Pennsylvania more than a decade ago, more than 500 of them over environmental health and safety issues and the rest for paperwork errors. Cabot, one of the most prolific producers in the nation’s No. 2 gas-drilling state, has about 770 active shale gas wells in Pennsylvania.

Stark said the company learned from its early mistakes and “because of that learning, hands down, we are the best operator.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.

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