A ruling Friday by a Pennsylvania judge to allow activist Vera Scroggins back on land leased by Cabot Oil & Gas is a “big win” according to her legal team, but the fight will continue in a trial scheduled for May 1.
An order, drafted by Cabot attorneys and handed down by Judge Kenneth Seamans in October, barred Scroggins from setting foot on land owned or leased by Cabot, “including but not limited to” well sites, well pads, and access roads. That language kept Scroggins from approximately 200,000 acres -- nearly 40 percent -- of Susquehanna County where Scroggins lives, including property of friends, neighbors, stores, parks, schools and health care providers.
After a hearing Monday, Judge Seamans modified the injunction to restrict Scroggins only from work areas designated by no-trespassing signs and a 100-foot buffer zone. The new order, issued on Friday, allows Vera to enter other land leased by Cabot, including markets, public spaces, physicians offices, and hospitals. It also allows her to use public roads that go by work sites, but the ruling stipulates that she cannot stop or linger at the entrances to access roads.
In an interview Friday with Associated Press reporter Michael Rubinkam, Scroggins’ attorney Scott Michelman characterized the revised order as “a big win,” but he added that the 100-foot buffer could pose unjustified restrictions. Scroggins said the revised order was “a step in the right direction. ” She told me today that she and her legal team will fight the buffer zone at a trial scheduled for May 1.
Scroggins’ vantage point was mostly from public roads by drilling sites, although Cabot claims that she also trespassed onto private land under lease by the Texas drilling company, posing a safety risk to herself and others. In a statement Friday, Cabot officials said they were "satisfied” with the ruling to maintain an injunction against Scroggins that “protects Cabot and its employees, contractors and others” and “keeps landowners from being exposed to liability that could arise from Scroggins' actions."
One of the main questions to be resolved: Is a buffer zone, which does not apply to other citizens, necessary to protect the health and safety of Scroggins and others, as Cabot claims, or is it being used by Cabot to discourage anti-fracking activists from filming or viewing Cabot operations from legitimate vantage points, as Scroggins claims.
Scroggins has taped and posted hundreds of video files on You Tube showing drilling operations in Susquehanna County since 2009, including spills, clean-ups, and discharges. The videos cast operations in a way that runs counter to the industry’s portrayal as clean and safe. Scroggins has also lead tours for political action groups, academics, journalists, and other interested parties visiting the area to learn more about drilling and the controversial practice of high volume hydraulic fracturing to stimulate the gas wells.