Activist won't face fines, jail time in ongoing fight with gas company
A Susquehanna County judge ruled Wednesday that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will not be fined or jailed for violating a court order designed to keep her away from sites operated by Cabot Oil & Gas.
The ongoing feud between the activist and the gas company made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March, the court order was revised to be much less restrictive. She is currently barred from Cabot sites and its access roads and must observe a 100 foot buffer zone.
Scroggins, a self-described “gas tour guide,” frequently brings visitors by Cabot sites and takes photos and videos. The company claims she has repeatedly trespassed on its property, and her activities pose a safety risk.
Judge Kenneth Seamans found Scroggins technically violated the 100 foot buffer zone, but she will not be punished. Much of the hearing focused on whether a road off of State Route 3023 leading to Cabot’s Costello wellpad constitutes a driveway for the Costello family or a Cabot access road– in fact, it is used as both.
Scroggins made a tour stop at the Costello property earlier this month and was photographed by Cabot security. The company quickly filed a motion to have her held in contempt of court for violating the order, which meant she could have been jailed or fined. Scroggins testified that she stood next to the Costello driveway– believing the wellpad access road began further up the property. The judge ruled that going forward, she should treat the driveway as an access road.
Cabot says the restrictions are not an effort to curb free speech.
“It’s all about safety,'” says Cabot spokesman George Stark.
He says a bus once got stuck as the result of a Scroggins tour but is unaware of anyone ever getting hurt.
“I don’t like the idea of even thinking someone could get hurt,” says Stark. “I want to stop it before someone gets hurt. The fact that a bus got stuck on a location where she shouldn’t have been is reason enough to say, ‘You’ve pushed it too far.'”
“That’s nice he admitted no one has ever been hurt,” says Scroggins. “The only thing that’s actually been hurt is the public image of Cabot.”
The current court order against her is only temporary. The judge is also considering a separate matter, regarding a 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.
Cabot argues her signature is a “mere formality”– the agreement is valid and should be enforced by the court. Her attorneys argue there was an expectation by all parties that signatures were required. Time ran out Wednesday for the judge to issue a ruling on that matter. A trial date is set for December 11th.