Nowhere has the battle over Marcellus Shale gas drilling been uglier than in the rural community of Dimock in the far northeast corner of the state.
Last year a gun was pulled on an employee of Cabot Oil and Gas, prompting the company to send its crews out with armed escorts.
It wasn’t exactly the shootout at OK corral, but on Wednesday some of that vitriol spilled over into a federal courtroom in Harrisburg.
A group of Dimock residents is suing Cabot over alleged contamination of their wells, claiming they are suffering health problems from chemicals in their drinking water.
Last year Cabot was ordered by the state Department of Environmental Protection to halt drilling in the area after numerous regulatory violations.
So why did the plaintiffs rush to federal court seeking an injunction to stop drilling in the area?
That’s what U.S. District Judge John E. Jones 3d wanted to know.
“Why couldn’t someone just say we’re not going to drill?” Jones asked Cabot attorney Walter A. Bunt Jr. “We’re in a knife fight here.”
Bunt offered no explanation.
“Did you check with DEP?,” said Jones. “I’m not DEP”
Steven Berman, an attorney with Napoli Bern Rikpa LLP, representing the plaintiffs, said he did not check with the state, but proceeded with the injunction on the advice of his clients.
“They told us that \[drilling\] work was under way,” he said.
Then Jones went on to accuse attorneys for both sides of “burning up” their clients money and wasting the court’s time.
“I shouldn’t be bogged down by this,” he said.
The tirade went on.
“Your comments do nothing but give me a sense of hopelessness in this litigation,” he said. “I can’t construct a mechanism to make you become more collegial.”
Jones’ parting message from the bench: try any maneuvers like this and sanctions will be imposed.
In less than 20 minutes it was over.
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