Anti-fracking activist and gas company head back to court
63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be back in court next week facing fines and possible jail time in an ongoing fight with one of Pennsylvania’s biggest gas drillers, Cabot Oil & Gas.
Cabot wants Scroggins to be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating an order to stay at least 100 feet away from its work sites. A hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday in Susquehanna County.
Scroggins maintains her innocence.
“I just hope to be cleared of the charges and be a free person like anyone else in my county,” she says. “I want to be able to move through all the public roads here without having to worry about counting my steps.”
Scroggins has been a thorn in the company’s side for years. She frequently gives unofficial tours of drilling sites and carries a video camera. Cabot says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property, and her activities pose a safety risk to workers and visitors.
In a motion filed last week, Cabot attorney Amy Barrette claims Scroggins came within 10 feet of an access road to a well site.
“Ms. Scroggins’ conduct constitutes a blatant disregard for this Court’s Order,” wrote Barrette. “Such a flagrant violation of the clear terms of this Court’s Order must not go unchecked.”
The company is also seeking to have Scroggins cover its attorneys fees. A Cabot spokesman did not respond to requests to comment.
The feud made international news earlier this year, after Cabot got a judge to agree to bar her from all the land it owns or has leased. The restrictions went beyond blocking her from operational work sites. The prohibited area included large swaths of land the company has leased but not developed– encompassing public spaces like restaurants, grocery stores, and a hospital. It amounted to nearly 40 percent of Susquehanna County. Cabot later said it didn’t intend for the order to be so broad.
The temporary court order against her was modified in March to be much less restrictive. Scroggins is currently barred from the company’s operational sites and must observe a 100 foot buffer zone. Cabot alleges she violated those restrictions earlier this month while giving a tour with New York State’s Green Party candidate for governor.
The current injunction is temporary. The court hearing next week will also focus on a proposed permanent agreement about where she can and can’t go. Attorneys for both sides recently negotiated a deal which would impose smaller buffer zones (ranging from 25 to 100 feet) on Scroggins’ movements.
She initially agreed to that settlement, but then changed her mind and refused to sign the document. She says she’s uncomfortable with Cabot having the power to prohibit her from public roads. The buffer zones would also extend on to other people’s private property, even if Scroggins has the permission to be there.
“I consider it outrageous to treat an American citizen this way,” she says. “They do not have control of public roads. I would like to be free on other people’s property, who give me permission, and not have to worry about some gas company. I’m willing to go to jail to continue to fight for my rights.”
In court documents, Cabot argues Scroggins’ signature doesn’t matter; the permanent settlement agreement is still valid and should be enforced.