MONTROSE — Attorneys for Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. filed to revise a court order Monday and explained they never intended to keep anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins from visiting her friends or going to the grocery store.
In its revision given to Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth W. Seamans during a hearing, Cabot proposed to narrow an original injunction that barred Scroggins, 63, from entering all property Cabot owns or leases, about 200,000 acres in Pennsylvania.
The revision, yet to be approved by Seamans and one that stands to be narrowed further by Scroggins’ own proposed revisions, would prohibit her from entering land owned by Cabot and leased property where the natural gas production company is actively working.
Cabot, a Houston, Texas-based firm, conducts most of its Marcellus Shale drilling in Susquehanna County. Its activities include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to harvest natural gas, disputed methods that Scroggins has staunchly opposed with protests, tours and videos posted to her YouTube channel.
Cabot filed a petition for the injunction Oct. 17 documenting 11 instances in which Scroggins trespassed onto drilling sites where employees were working and impeding truck traffic to sites. Seamans granted a preliminary injunction four days later. A trial to determine whether a permanent injunction is warranted for Scroggins is scheduled for May 1.
The revision says Scroggins would not be banned permanently from Cabot-leased land, rather only while drilling operations are ongoing. When the drilling rigs have gone, the order allows her to enter the land, given permission from landowners, but she must stay 150 feet away from any well pad. She also must stay 150 feet away from access roads.
The revision also includes a list of 12 sites currently being developed.
Scroggins’ attorneys were developing an order revision proposal of their own Monday afternoon, but did not provide it by press time.
A ‘powerful tool’
Scott Michelman, an attorney from the Public Citizen Litigation Group representing Scroggins, told Seamans the injunction sent a “chilling message” to activists, one that sets a precedent that people can be prosecuted for acting on their First Amendment rights.
“The injunction is a very powerful tool,” Michelman said, explaining stiff penalties could follow if she violates the order, but he said a narrowly tailored injunction could be fashioned to meet Cabot’s concerns, as well as protect Scroggins from injuring herself or others.
In its original petition, Cabot said Scroggins repeatedly trespassed, interrupting employees while they worked and impeding traffic on purpose. In one instance, she climbed up on a storage tank containing brine clearly marked “do not climb” that was on a well pad, injunction documents say.
During the hearing, Michelman questioned the 150-feet rule. He said case law sets the precedent between a 15-foot to 36-foot setback for Scroggins’ efforts to protest and document Cabot’s work, but 150 feet is excessive.
Cabot attorney Amy Barrette said 150 feet is fitting because trucks, some as long as 90 feet, frequent Cabot’s drill sites.
After the hearing, Michelman said he is confident the judge understood the need to protect Scroggins’ rights.
“The judge … I think understood some of the very important issues regarding Ms. Scroggins’ freedoms and seemed inclined, to my thinking, at least to narrow the injunction somewhat, which would be a huge victory for Ms. Scroggins and for Constitutional principals of free speech and freedom of movement,” Michelman said.
Scroggins said she feels Cabot is trying to silence her.
“I do feel they are trying to silence me because I am doing so many tours, citizen tours, hundreds of them for the past five years,” she said. “They are trying to make this more difficult for me that so I couldn’t do it or intimidate me so I would stop doing it.”
Cabot has never tried to make Scroggins quit her activism, Barrette said.
“This is not about keeping Ms. Scroggins from sharing her opinion,” she said.
Kelly Harding, a Franklin Township resident who said she leases her land to WPX Energy, a gas drilling company, co-founded Franklin Citizens for Truth, a landowners’ group in favor of fracking. She said Scroggins’ activism is over the top.
“The landowners are concerned, not so much that the activists are allowed to portray their ideas and their thoughts against this. It’s how they go about it,” Harding said. “I mean, there’s no reason to trespass on the drill sites.”