Court exhibits filed during a recent hearing involving Cabot Oil & Gas’s breach of contract lawsuit against a Dimock anti-drilling activist indicate that several anti-fracking organizations paid him and a fellow fracktivist tens of thousands of dollars as they traveled extensively to speak out against the natural gas industry.
According to the exhibits, Ray Kemble of Dimock received over $13,000 in payments from Water Defense of New York between May and October of 2012. The checks bore notations that the payments were for water deliveries to neighbors with contaminated wells.
Last week, Kemble appeared in Susquehanna County court to fight a demand by the gas and oil driller that he sit down and answer questions under oath regarding their claims that the violated an agreement that he stop publicly bad-mouthing the company and its drilling practices.
Kemble has claimed in his defense that his actions are constitutionally protected free speech and points to Cabot’s poor environmental record and numerous drilling infractions Cabot has racked up with state regulatory agencies.
Judge Jason Legg gave Kemble until later next month to obtain a new lawyer after he fired his latest attorney and to sit down with Cabot to answer their questions as part of the lead up to a possible trial. Attorneys for Cabot have asked Legg to impose legal sanctions against Kemble, including the possibility of jail time. Kemble told Legg that he is unable to answer questions under oath due to his poor health and appeared during the hearing relying on a walker for physical assistance.
Late last month Kemble friend and associate Craig L. Stevens answered questions from Cabot under oath in Alexandria, Virginia.
During his deposition Stevens, who formerly lived in the Montrose area, admitted that between November 2013 and August 2014 the Washington, D.C., headquartered anti-fracking group Food and Water Watch paid him over $25,000 to travel and speak to groups about problems he sees with the drilling industry.
Stevens has frequently traveled with and appeared alongside Kemble at a number of public anti-fracking speaking events.
“My appearance here today I consider stalking and harassment,” Stevens said during the January 31 deposition in Virginia.
“I have nothing to do with this case. I have nothing to do with Mr. Kemble signing an agreement of any kind with your company. I have nothing to do with him potentially violating that. So I consider this entire affair stalking and harassing, personally,” Stevens said.
According to cancelled checks entered as exhibits back here in Susquehanna County, between April and October of 2012, a company operated locally by Stevens called Clean Life Systems also paid Kemble $2,800 to deliver water to neighbors with contaminated wells. During his deposition Stevens also said that in January 2012 he had purchased a water truck for Kemble for $3,500. Clean Life Systems markets and sells high tech air and water treatment systems valued at over $2,000 each. Stevens said that he had one installed in Kemble’s Carter Road home.
During his deposition, Stevens first denied receiving payments from Food and Water Watch but then changed his answer to say he was only receiving travel reimbursement checks.
After being confronted with cancelled checks from Food and Water Watch, Stevens then again changed his testimony to say that he in fact had a contract with Food and Water Watch which was paying him $4,000 a month for “consulting and educational outreach.”
Stevens has traveled across the country speaking out on problems he sees with the fracking industry, including engagements at the United Nations sponsored by the U.N. Sisters of Mercy and the New York State Assembly.
“At any time when you were out doing the community outreach, did you tell any of the people you were speaking to that Food & Water Watch was paying you thousands of dollars a month?” Barrette asked Stevens.
“They knew I was being compensated but I didn’t share who I was being compensated by,” Stevens replied.
“How did they know you were being compensated?” Barrette asked.
“They — people ask, what do you — how — why are you doing this and how are you doing it, I said because I’m being supported by groups that are interested in getting the — our side of the story out,” Stevens said.
“I’ve never seen — in all the research I’ve done, I’ve never seen you ever make that public statement to any reporters. Did you ever tell any of the reporters that you’ve spoken to that you were paid thousands by Food & Water Watch?” Barrette asked.
“They’ve asked and I’ve said yes, but maybe that didn’t make the story line,” Stevens replied.
Stevens’ admission that anti-gas organizations had paid him thousands of dollars has raised more than a few eyebrows locally as most observers were under the impression that he and Kemble had been speaking out against the drilling industry out of an overabundance of concern over its effects on the environment and local community.
“Craig Stevens is an important and effective voice against the reckless practices of fracking companies like Cabot,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in an e-mailed statement.
“He has witnessed first-hand the devastation fracking has caused in Dimock and elsewhere, where Cabot was cited for 265 violations in a four-year period. We have reimbursed Craig for travel and other expenses, allowing him to travel the country to speak out against fracking and educate others about the inherent harms of the industry,” Hauter’s statement continued.
“For Cabot to criticize Food & Water Watch for reimbursing travel costs of educators is incredibly hypocritical given the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has spent on lobbyists and elected officials to avoid responsibility for the harm it has caused communities – not to mention the untold money – possibly millions – it has spent on secret settlements to silence impacted homeowners,” she wrote.
Other organizations listed as having given money include River Keeper, Catskill Mountainkeeper and Frack Action.
Cabot claims in its lawsuit that Kemble and several lawyers engaged in frivolous litigation in suing them in an April 2017 federal lawsuit which was later dismissed.
“They filed the lawsuit with the purpose of harassing Cabot and extorting money from Cabot,” Barrette told Legg during a December 2017 hearing.
In its lawsuit, Cabot also notes that Kemble received royalties from a 2006 oil and gas lease with Cabot which allowed Cabot to drill “as long as those activities were conducted outside of Kemble’s property and more than 200 feet from Kemble’s home.”