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Cabot's Sneaky Attack on Pennsylvania Cancer Survivor Reveals Dirty Agenda to Silence Environmentalists

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A Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Cabot Oil & Gas, a company with $765 million in assets in 2017, doesn't like environmental nonprofits meddling in its dirty business in Pennsylvania. And the company is delivering this message by targeting Ray Kemble—a local 63-year old who just survived his fourth cancer surgery—with a $5 million lawsuit for speaking out about Cabot and fracking.


If corporate injustices were measured on a scale of one to ten, Cabot's latest disgraceful maneuver would be a rock-solid eleven. Back in 2010, Cabot settled a number of lawsuits brought by Dimock homeowners who claimed that the company had poisoned their groundwater, decreased their property values and threatened their health and safety. Kemble was one of those plaintiffs who signed a settlement agreement that included some unknown nondisclosure terms. It's a secrecy provision that Cabot often uses to keep its dirty practices hidden and one that state and federal regulators have cited as a hinderance to a full investigation into the impact of fracking on groundwater and public health.

While its exact terms remain concealed, Cabot's lawyers want us all to take their word for it that Kemble is in violation of the nondisclosure provision of the agreement because he has exercised his First Amendment right to warn others of the risks of fracking and encourage an end to this inherently harmful practice. Kemble's effective advocacy made him a target of Cabot's ire, and now they've taken aim and fired off a lawsuit that seeks to strip him of all he has left in the world, and then some.

Cabot's recent filing with the court asked the judge to place a cancer patient with no resources in jail until its lawyers have had a chance to interrogate him. The judge rejected its request and after the hearing, Cabot's spokesperson tried to deflect from the corporation's persecution of Kemble by claiming that it is really just using the courts to go after groups that have provided financial support to Kemble and others who have been victimized by Cabot's irresponsible fracking operations.

The irony of Cabot's claims is rich. While Cabot whines about advocacy groups supporting affected citizens in their work to stop fracking, its spokesperson didn't mention the over $600,000 the company paid out in lobbying and campaign contributions between 2011 and 2014 in Pennsylvania in an attempt to cover up the 265 operating violations it racked up over the same period.

Elected officials have happily taken campaign money from Cabot to protect its interests in the state. Food & Water Watch has been proud to stand alongside Kemble and all the other victims of Cabot and other fracking companies in Dimock, across Pennsylvania and around the country. We've provided funding so that people in Dimock who have had their drinking water taken from them have access to clean water, and to assist these courageous frontline advocates who have been fighting hard against crooked companies and bought-and-paid-for elected officials who look the other way. And we will continue to do so even in the face of corporate intimidation.

Cabot can only continue to operate by violating the fundamental rights of others. It threatens the property rights of homeowners whose groundwater is poisoned and whose property values plummet. It even relies on judges to overturn juries who grant Cabot's victims monetary damages for the harm Cabot has caused, while paying off politicians. And now the corporation wants to put an end to people's rights to speak freely about fracking.

It's time to put an end to Cabot's reign of terror in Pennsylvania. The federal Environmental Protection Agency should reopen the investigation into Dimock's groundwater that it abruptly walked away from without explanation. The state legislature should hold hearings on Cabot's business and drilling practices and the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims. And the state Attorney General Josh Shapiro should launch an investigation into Cabot's shameless persecution of Kemble and Cabot's misuse of the court system. It's time for these officials to step up and protect residents of Pennsylvania from the abuses of greedy and irresponsible oil and gas companies like Cabot.

Wenonah Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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