Driller defends court order barring anti-fracking activist from Pa. land
Susquehanna County’s biggest driller is defending a court order curbing prominent anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins.
At a county court hearing Monday in Montrose, lawyers for Cabot Oil and Gas argued the company only wants to limit Scroggins’ access to active drilling sites. Cabot says Scroggins has blocked access roads and climbed onto equipment which poses a liability for the company.
“She could get herself killed,” attorney Amy Barrette told a judge. “She could cause accidents.”
In October, a judge signed off on an order barring Scroggins from all land owned or leased by Cabot in Susquehanna County or more than 300 square miles. The preliminary injunction applies to land that has not yet been drilled, including a local hospital and grocery stores.
However, Cabot maintains the company never intended for it to be so broad and that Scroggins has since used the injunction to attract attention to her cause.
“We are willing to admit it only applies to places where there are active surface operations,” Barrette said in court, which was packed with pro- and anti-gas activists alike.
The arguments continued onto the street outside the courthouse where Barrette confronted Scroggins’ attorney Scott Michelman who accused Cabot of making no attempt to clarify the preliminary injunction.
“It didn’t say no hospitals, no grocery stores, no friends’ homes,” Michelman called out over the din of protestors with cameras.
Barrette said Cabot attempted to change the language of the order in January to assure Scroggins that she could visit sites where there is no active drilling, but she refused.
A judge with the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas has asked both sides to submit new proposals that would narrow the injunction to cover only active drilling sites and access roads until a trial in May.
Scroggins is known for organizing citizens’ bus tours of drilling sites and posting videos online of her encounters with her opposition. She has become a polarizing figure in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Kelly Harding, of Franklin Forks, attended the hearing in Montrose. Harding, who has leased her land to WPX Energy, says she has been confronted by Scroggins in the past and hopes other companies follow Cabot’s lead.
“At some point you need to draw a line and say, you have your point, this is how you’re going to get it across. Don’t make it a danger to you and other people in doing so,” Harding said. “So I don’t think they stepped too far, but I would hope that they would get half of what they asked for.”
It is not yet clear when the judge will sign off on a new order. In the meantime, Scroggins will continue to work around the current order by researching where Cabot holds leases at the Susquehanna County courthouse.
Attorney Scott Michelman says the injunction violates her civil rights and sends a message to other activists.
“It tells them you will pay for exposing what is going on at these sites.”