The following is an unbelievable story of how much of a threat one unarmed grandma can be perceived as, to corporate hegemony of our democratic republic. A story of how far The Political Class will go to stop her, but also an expose of how ineffective it actually is, if she is courageous enough to stand her ground. A story of both threat and hope.
US Main Stream Media is full of anecdotes about the criminal amounts of cash the global corporate Oil & Gas (O&G) lobby dumps into it’s politics. It barely mentions the seedier outcomes of O&G’s political influence. Many of my fellow Americans might have therefore missed what The Guardian has called “one of the most extreme measures taken by the oil and gas industry to date.”
The Guardian also notes that “None of that activity by Scroggins or other activists was illegal, or presented a public danger, according to Jason Legg, the district attorney for Susquehanna County,” while “Thomas Meagher, the county solicitor, said Scroggins brought her legal problems down on herself by failing to follow the “unwritten rules” of civilized discourse.”
Dr. Walter Brasch, in his linked blog, “An Injunction Against the First Amendment” describes a kangaroo court run of, by and for Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to silence one (1) 63-yr old grandmother, Vera Scroggins. Among my favorite passages, is where Scroggins is basically told that if she were to accidentally go anywhere she can’t go, she would then be in violation:
“(Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W.) Seamans issued the temporary injunction that Cabot wanted. It forbid Scroggins from going onto any property that Cabot owned, was drilling, or had mineral rights, even if there was no drilling. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.”
The extent of this kangaroo court’s slant is described in The Guardian: “Cabot turned up with four lawyers and nine witnesses, employees of the company and the firm it hired to provide security. Scroggins represented herself. She told the court she had been unable to find a lawyer as the hearing had been called on 72 hours’ notice.”
Scroggins later explained to me that the judge originally denied her request for continuance since she hadn’t given 24 hours notice. But she didn’t have an attorney to know about the 24 hour notice.
Good She Checked
It is a good thing Scroggins had the time, inclination and resources to dig through those hundreds of documents. Otherwise, here is what she might never have found until her lawyer told her inside a jail cell:
“Scroggins can’t even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invite her; that’s because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot…Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County…the local hospital, supermarkets, drug stores, several restaurants, the place she goes for rehabilitation therapy, and a recreational lake.”
According to former lease holder and current candidate for the 110th Legislative Representative Carol French: “Remember the landowner owns the property and if you have or had permission to go on the land, Cabot will NOT and does NOT have a leg to stand on. That landowner still pays the taxes on that property and owns the right to enjoy and share their property with whomever they choose. The lease does NOT allow the use of the surface unless the landowner signs away surface rights to the gas company.”
But How Can It Be?
Big money has broken our ability to get a fair share shake against those with big money. As Brasch explains, the following is only possible “Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians’ campaigns.” The sole saving prayer may yet come: “the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth,” Brasch notes.
How do you get around with these restrictions? You don’t. We The (actual, living) People have to put They The (corporate, non-living) People in their place. That place is not, but should be, 100% subordinate to the will of We The (actual, living) People.
Round Two: A Little More Evenly Matched
On March 24, at 9 am, Scroggins went to court to defend her right to shop in markets, and visit the hospital in her own town. She was up against Cabot Oil, who wants to restrict her from the land she grew up on – and the corporate person Cabot did not – because she speaks up against fracking that land.
Scroggins is far better armed this time, so the outcome may actually approach a level of sanity, if not fair play: “The 3 attorneys I have are pro bono, court costs are covered by donations.”
Scroggins said the next day she was: “waiting for the Judge to make a decision on whether to continue the injunction and if so, how restrictive this time.” While Vera sought to dismiss the injunction, Cabot now wants to exclude her from 500 feet around active sites. “How am I supposed to know where it is? They are going to have to establish a Vera-Free Zone,” she said on the Bob Joseph Show, WNBF Radio 1290 Binghamton, the next day.
On the Bob Joseph Show, a caller named Ray, who said he is an ex-gas worker in Dimock, allows Vera on his property. There is an operating gas well 500 feet from his front door. When Vera is there, he says gas workers “Viciously come down and attack her standing on my property.”
Scroggins offers what might be a better method of keeping her off another’s property: “If you don’t want me on your property, send me a letter. I would honor it, and if I didn’t, take me to court.”
To the danger Scroggins’s presence creates on fracking sites, she asked on Joseph Show: “They are afraid that too many people were seeing what this industry is doing to the residents. What is the danger? I basically stay on the road, they have gates and guard shacks. If it is so dangerous, why are you next to homes?”
She later added, “Cabot has so far, 540 DEP violations and millions in fines. I don’t have any violations or fines. Cabot is the real danger and all the gas companies; we are being exposed to possible gas leaks, explosions, fires with these sites next to homes, schools, farms daily. When will the next accident that takes out the nearby residents happen? How many will have to die and be cremated, incinerated like the worker on the site in Greene Twp., Washington County, PA?”
To documentation of Vera loosing her patience in face of adversity, she welcomes anyone to sit down and talk to her. Let them decide for themselves. She adds: “Those who know me don’t describe me like that. Those who are pro-gas industry describe me like that.”
John Trallo, Vice Chair Executive Committee, Shale Justice Coalition, shalejustice.org, later told me: “This is a big deal, because the outcome of this case will set the precedent for all other BS trespassing cases that the gas industry is certain to try to use against every citizen activist, grassroots organization, etc., who rightfully opposes this massive and gross industrialization.”
Vera told me later: “I will continue to expose this industry and reveal the dangerous practices they impose on the residents.” We, the residents, hope you do, Vera.
“My next (hearing) date has been moved later to July 2nd at 9 am” says Scroggins. We, the residents, must be there for her.
Reuters account of the hearing:
William Huston’s writeup about the “after scene”:
According to Trallo “this story is getting picked up all over:
So far: 7 states, 3 countries, US National News Media, 2 wire services.”
He lists them:
International: France (Le Monde), Russia (RT)
Wire Services: Reuters, AP,
National: Huffington Post, Yahoo News (front page!), Bloomberg Business Week, Washington Post
Local: NY(Binghamton, Elmiria) PA (WNEP Scranton, Wilkes Barre, York, Abington), IL: (Pekin), IN: (Greenfield, Indianapolis), WI (Eau Clare), OH: (Warren), CO (Colorado Springs)
An HD video of the entire press conference will be posted on my “Citizen Sane” blog (http://pacitizensane.blogspot.com/) YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the Shale Justice Coalition Newsletter and website, and also on Dr. Wendy Lee’s “The Wrench” (http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/) and “Raging Chicken Press” (http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/).
Here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKazb8AiJEs&list=UUEWwQRI3qXtuLt6p30OusQQ
For a set of stills of the press conference, please see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wendylynnelee/sets/72157642865631153/
*Why is this so important? If Cabot gets away with this bogus ‘slap suit’ against Vera Scroggins, it will set a dangerous precedent and the oil and gas industry will take steps to silence anyone who dares to tell the truth about their activities. We can not allow that to happen. Vera deserves our full public support. I was proud to stand with her and the crowd of other socially, environmentally, and morally responsible citizens at the Montrose Court house today, and intend to be there with her when the judge announces his decision. We all need to stand in support of each other if we are to win this battle for our children, and our children’s children and stop this industry from advancing. I refuse to accept, or believe this is a lost cause. – JT
Le Monde (France):
PennLive (Patriot News, Central PA):
Elmira Star Gazette:
Law360 (membership only access): http://www.law360.com/articles/519769/pa-anti-fracking-activist-seeks-to-end-ban-from-land
WBNG (Binghamton): http://www.wbng.com/news/local/Anti-fracking-activist-takes-on-Cabot-Oil-and-Gas-in-court-252043121.html
Bloomberg Business Week:
Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin:
York Dispatch: http://www.yorkdispatch.com/ci_25410227/trespassing-fracking-activist-wants-ban-lifted
StateImpactPA (public radio): http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2014/03/24/driller-defends-court-order-barring-anti-fracking-activist-from-pa-land/
Washington Post (with a totally incorrect headling): http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/trespassing-fracking-activist-wants-ban-lifted/2014/03/24/d6df7a3a-b392-11e3-bab2-b9602293021d_story.html
Allentown Morning Call: http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-fracking-activist-banned-20140324,0,3575493.story
Pekin Times (Illinois): http://www.pekintimes.com/article/20140324/NEWS/140329558/11130/SPORTS
Abington Journal (Montgomery County PA): http://theabingtonjournal.com/news/local-news-news/1269509/Anti-fracking-activist-appeals-court-injunction
Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/anti-fracking-activist-banned-pennsylvania-land-heads-court-040127457–finance.html
The Daily Journal (Indianapolis, IN): http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/4fc48f0ab9b24a7f9efc2c37fa44ef1f/PA–Banned-Fracking-Activist/
Times Leader (Wilkes Barre): http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news-news/1269509/Anti-fracking-activist-appeals-court-injunction
Tribune Chronicle (Warren OH, Mahoning Valley): http://tribune-chronicle.com/page/content.detail/id/601512/Mon—4-49pm–Trespassing-fracking-activist-wants-ban-lifted.html?nav=5192
WEAU (Au Clair, WI): http://www.weau.com/home/headlines/Activist-wants-back-on-natural-gas-drillers-land-252055041.html
Greenfield Reporter (Indiana): http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/4fc48f0ab9b24a7f9efc2c37fa44ef1f/US–Banned-Fracking-Activist
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO): http://gazette.com/fracking-activist-wants-back-on-drillers-land/article/feed/102062