Cabot continues legal fight against fracking activist

  • Marie Cusick
Activist Vera Scroggins speaks with reporters after an October 2014 court hearing.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Activist Vera Scroggins speaks with reporters after an October 2014 court hearing in Montrose.

Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas is headed back to court again next week in an ongoing legal battle with an anti-fracking activist.

The year-and-a-half long feud between Cabot and 64-year-old Vera Scroggins appeared to be over last fall, when Susquehanna County judge Kenneth Seamans ruled she would be permanently barred from Cabot sites and must observe buffer zones ranging from 25 to 100 feet.

But Cabot is continuing to challenge her movements and wants her to be punished for allegedly coming too close to a wellpad access road last month. The two sides will meet again in a Susquehanna County courtroom on February 25th.

The legal battle made international news last year when Cabot got a sweeping court injunction against Scroggins– effectively barring her from half the county. Last March, the order was revised to be much less restrictive.

She could face fines or jail time, although her attorney Jerry Kinchy doubts she would be imprisoned.

“If there’s any merit to what they claim, the judge would hold her in contempt of court,” he says. “That could involve reimbursing them for their legal fees. In this case it would be substantial, because they fly their legal team on a private jet out of Pittsburgh.”

Scroggins is a vocal anti-fracking activist who frequently hosts unofficial tours of Susquehanna County and brings visitors to Cabot sites. The company says she has repeatedly trespassed and poses a safety risk.

Scroggins feels she’s being treated like a criminal, for allegedly coming too close to driveways.

“It must be hard work for them, because they have a whole team of lawyers getting paid big bucks, and this is as far as they’ve gotten,” she says. “How desperate can you get to go after a senior citizen?”

“We’re just trying to continue to enforce those rules– that she need not put herself or others in harm’s way,” says Cabot spokesman George Stark.

In a separate matter, the court will also consider whether Scroggins must adhere to the permanent settlement agreement, which restricts her movements near Cabot sites. Although she initially agreed to the deal, she later changed her mind and refused to sign the settlement documents.

Last fall, Cabot argued her signature was unnecessary and said the agreement should stand. In a November 6th ruling, Judge Seamans sided with the company and found that Scroggins had, in fact, agreed to the deal through her attorneys.

Kinchy argued that she had not had the opportunity to present her side. The judge later agreed and will hear her testimony at the upcoming hearing.