Fractivist barred from Cabot sites
BY STACI WILSON
A natural gas driller gained a preliminary injunction Monday barring a local fractivist from trespassing onto its leased well sites and access roads.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, of Houston, Texas, filed the petition for injunction in Susquehanna County Court against natural gas opponent Vera Scroggins.
A hearing date for a permanent injunction has not yet been set by the court.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said, “Cabot has intercepted Mrs. Scroggins more than once and asked her to stop trespassing on our sites.”
In court documents filed last week, Cabot maintained that Scroggins has repeatedly trespassed onto several of the gas company’s leased and owned properties, exposing herself, the company and workers on the sites to potential safety hazards.
“What we’ve seen is an increase in frequency and also the number of visitors she is putting harm’s way,” Stark said.
On Monday, President Judge Kenneth Seamans heard testimony from several Cabot employees, contractors, consultants and security personnel regarding the incidents.
Scroggins appeared in court without counsel. She told the judge she had only been notified of the injunction and the Monday hearing on Friday, Oct. 18, and was not able to find an attorney in time for court.
Judge Seamans denied Scroggins’ request that the hearing be continued to a later date.
On the stand, Cabot Senior Environmental Health and Safety Specialist Michael Brody Webster testified that workers on the site were trained on the equipment and the safety hazards associated with equipment and the phases of natural gas development.
He said access to Cabot locations had “restricted” to authorized personnel only, and that trespassing was not permitted and that each location had signage to that effect. He also said security personnel are often located at the sites.
Facility tours for the general public are offered by Cabot, Webster said, and are arranged by the office of external communications. Those tours, he added, were conducted by trained personnel and drilling supervisors and that safety equipment – such as hard hats and safety glasses – are distributed to people on the tours.
Webster said that people accessing sites that are not supposed to be there take the workers’ focus off their duties.
He told the court that he had warned Scroggins that she was trespassing and she was aware of that.
Scroggins said she did not recall ever speaking with Webster. “How can you prove I actually spoke with you?” she asked.
Webster told her he had spoke to her at the Vandermark when she was providing a tour to people before well completion activities were taking place.
“When you told me I shouldn’t be there, did I leave?” Scroggins asked.
“Yes,” Webster said. “Then you went to the Hess location and I called the state police.”
Scroggins said she had taken two Cabot well tours led by spokesman George Stark. She asked if he had knowledge of the hazards associated with the process and said the group was not issued hard hats, glasses or fire retardant clothing during the tours.
Scroggins said the signage at Cabot sites had instructions for visitors to “sign in” with drill supervisors. “I have seen no ‘trespassing’ signs at Vandermark and Hess,” she said.
She said that she had been to many Cabot sites and had never seen “no trespassing” signs, unless they had been placed by the property owners.
Webster told the court Scroggins had brought a tour group to a site and her vehicle was parked on a tank pad while people in the group were on “frac tanks” at the site.
Several other Cabot employees and contractors detailed times Scroggins had brought tour groups to various Cabot natural gas sites and was asked to leave the location in the past two years, including one tour bus with about 50 people on board that came onto a site during the completion stage of drilling when “flaring” was in process.
Scroggins said she wasn’t told to leave the site and that the signage asked for “visitors to sign in.”
“You were not a visitor,” said independent consultant Steve Barrett who was overseeing operations on the pad, “You were a trespasser.”
In response to other testimony alleging Scroggins had been trespassing, she said, “I don’t have to be ‘authorized,’ I’m a visitor – like with any other business in the United States you can walk up and ask what’s going on.”
Witnesses for Cabot also said Scroggins had parked her vehicle on the well pad access roads on several occasions hampering truck access to the sites and posing a safety risk to traffic.
Cabot Senior Regulatory Analyst Nancy Slater told the court she was overseeing demolition of a house on Carter Road in Dimock Twp. when she witnessed Scroggins cross the orange barricade onto the active work site.
Slater said she told Scroggins to come off the property. “I did not want her to get hurt,” she said.
She also said she advised Scroggins to contact Cabot’s Dimock office if she had any questions about the activities at the site. Slater also said “no trespassing” signs were in place at the Carter Rd. site and clearly in view.
A former Cabot well tender Daniel Smales, now employed as a production foreman with the company – said a picture taken from the social media site Twitter showed Scroggins at the Ely #4 and #6 location which had been marked with restricted access and no trespass signs.
He also said a Youtube video from December 2012 showed Scroggins had climbed a brine tank that was clearly marked “Do Not Climb.”
Scroggins said she had been granted permission by the property owner to be on the sites.
Scroggins called three people to the stand who had been on natural gas drilling tours with her to testify: Meryl Solar, Craig Stevens and William Huston.
All said Scroggins had followed “safe practices” when conducting her site tours and had not participated in any unsafe activity at the sites.
Huston said he had been at the Carter Rd. site the day of the house demolition but did not witness Scroggins cross the barricade into the work area.
He did tell the court that Scroggins took mail out of the 1101 Carter Rd. mailbox. At the time of the demolition, the property was owned by a Cabot subsidiary.
Huston said Scroggins had said she had prior authorization from a prior property owner to take the mail out of the box.
Scroggins declined to provide testimony after the judge alerted her to her privilege against self-incrimination.
Judge Seamans warned Scroggins that – depending on testimony offered – she could be charged under criminal law.
In closing, Cabot attorney Amy Barrett told the court that it was the company’s position that Scroggins was trespassing on Cabot property and properties where Cabot has the exclusive right to be working
“She may be confused with the sign, but she has been repeatedly told she is not allowed on Cabot property,” Barrett said.
Scroggins said she doesn’t consider what she has done as trespass and that she had not been told that she was not welcome at the sites.
“When I’m told to leave, I leave,” she told the court. “I’ve never been told I couldn’t touch anything or walk on the property.”