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Anti-fracking activist fights injunction in court

Matt Martin
Vera Scroggins outside of the "No Trespassing" area

A judge in Pennsylvania has loosened restrictions on anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins. The original restrictions -- requested by Cabot Oil and Gas -- prevented Scroggins from visiting any land leased or owned by Cabot. The ruling last week says Scroggins has to stay away from Cabot drilling sites, producing wells and a dozen properties owned by the company.

In one of the hundreds of videos Vera Scroggins has uploaded to YouTube, she films a bulldozer burp black smoke in the air as it moves dirt onto a 30-foot high pile. The bulldozer makes trip after trip. It dumps ever more dirt on the massive stack of earth.  

“That’s a lot of soil being moved around and there are a lot of houses right here,” Scroggins said.

Scroggins is well-known for her online videos and guided bus tours of fracking sites in Susquehanna County, Pa. She has given tours to international leaders, other environmental activists and celebrities, such as Yoko Ono.

But Cabot Oil and Gas was getting frustrated with Scroggins’ constant presence at their well sites.

“They didn’t want me bringing people near the sites, on the sites. But most of the time I was off the site. I was on the road,” she said.

In an effort to keep her away from their operations, Cabot filed an injunction last October that barred Scroggins from any land they own and the land they lease for drilling.

What they weren't expecting was the national press; there were reports about how Scroggins couldn’t go to her favorite grocery store or her local hospital.

Scroggins' lawyers argued it was a violation of her first amendment rights. George Stark, a spokesman for Cabot, disagrees.

“We’re not trying to stop anyone’s free speech; we’re not trying to stop anyone’s free movement,” Stark said.

He says it was never the point of the injunction to keep Scroggins from going to her grocery store or hospital.

“Our interest is in keeping Miss Scroggins off our active work sites,” he said.

The recent ruling handed down by the judge narrows the injunction to only include active work sites. It also requires that Scroggins stays at least 100 feet away from the entrance to any drilling location.

Scroggins takes me to a drill site to show what the new requirements will look like. We pull to the side of the road. There are two large “No Trespassing” signs and a young woman is sitting in a car at the entrance with a clipboard.

“That’s probably security right there, that person in the car. They’re watching the entrance,” Scroggins said.

“So has there always been security?” I ask.

“No, there wasn’t in the beginning when I was doing it. It started about two years ago, the security,” she said.

Scroggins says in the early days she would be able to simply walk up to the site manager and start asking him questions. Things are not so simple anymore.

“Do you think that security guard knows who you are?”

“Probably,” she answers.

She snaps a few photos of the site. The injunction hasn’t lessened her passion to document everything fracking-related. She says now she’ll just have to buy a bigger zoom lens.

There is a trial date set for May 1 for the two sides to hammer out what the permanent injunction against Scroggins will look like.