ACLU, advocacy group say Cabot injunction goes to far
BY STACI WILSON
A court order barring a natural gas opponent from entering Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation owned and leased lands goes too far, according to a Washington, D.C.-based national consumer advocacy organization and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania.
Attorneys for Vera Scroggins filed a motion in Susquehanna County Court to vacate the preliminary injunction placed against her in October, stating that the order imposes a substantial hardship on the Silver Lake Twp. resident and violates her constitutional rights to speech and freedom of movement.
The language of the order, according to Scroggins’ attorneys, bars her from her going to a local grocery store, her auto mechanic, the county recycling center, the homes of friends and even the local hospital, Endless Mountains Health Systems.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said, “Cabot’s primary concern is with operational sites where safety issues are concerned. Mrs. Scroggins rejected an offer to narrow the application of the injunction to such sites.”
Scroggins is being represented by attorney Gerald Kinchy, of Sayre, as well as Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and Scott Michelman of Public Citizen , Washington, D.C.
In the brief filed last week, Scroggins’ attorneys allege their client leads tours of “visitors to educate them about gas extraction/fracking.”
The brief goes on to maintain Scroggins “drives or walks on public roads and on lands to which the owners have invited her.”
That premise was disputed in the October 2013 preliminary injunction hearing when several Cabot employees and contractors took the stand and 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.
In court, Cabot Senior Regulatory Analyst Nancy Slater said 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.
The day of the demolition, Scroggins’ witness at the preliminary injunction hearing, Bill Huston, told the court that he observed her removing mail from the mailbox at the Cabot-owned property where the demolition was taking place.
In an amended complaint filed in January, Cabot scaled back the scope of the permanent injunction it is seeking against Scroggins. Cabot is looking to permanently enjoin Scroggins from all properties owned by the company, as well as leased lands where active operations are taking place. The complaint also looks to set a 150-foot buffer zone around certain other features on Cabot owned or leased land.
While highlighting Cabot’s pull back from the preliminary order as a reason to vacate the preliminary injunction, Scroggins’ legal team says that buffer zone is also overly broad in its reach.
A permanent injunction hearing is scheduled for March 24 in Susquehanna County Court.