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‘Most of us eventually get gagged by the industry’: Restrained activist exposes fracking business

Published time: February 03, 2014 12:15
A hydraulic fracturing site is viewed iin South Montrose, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)

With fracking becoming more popular in the US as an ‘alternative’ energy source, an increasing number of people are raising concerns about ecological and health risks. RT spoke to an activist who was ordered by a court to stay away from fracking sites.

Director of anti-fracking group ‘Citizens for Clean Water’, Vera Scroggins, an outspoken critic of fracking, last week was legally barred last week from visiting a grand total of 312.5 square miles of land in Pennsylvania. A court order issued by a local judge forbids her from entering any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in the Pennsylvania, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.
RT: You have been barred from several areas of Pennsylvania for your anti-fracking protests against Cabot Oil & Gas. Have you broken any laws?
Vera Scroggins:
Nothing that they have proven, nothing that they have charged me with. They have just obtained an injunction which is a restraining order to keep me away from Cabot Oil & Gas, their leased properties and their own properties, not only in my county – because it did not specify it in my court order that it was just in my county of Susquehanna in Pennsylvania – it can be anywhere Cabot is. So it is really broader.
RT: What are they afraid that you are going to do?
VS: Well, they claimed when they spoke to the judge, that they were afraid for the safety of their workers and that they were concerned about the distraction of their workers by my presence and my camera, and also bringing other people on tours – to show what is happening – and to let the people what an industrialization of a community is like.

RT: If you really stand back from this though, these guys are doing their job at the end of the day, are you a distraction do you think, if you stood back from it as well?
VS:
Well I do not think that I am a distraction. I might be for some. I might also be an interesting distraction. Because when I've been going to some of these sights in the early years – and I've been doing this for five year – when I've been going to the sites, around the entrance some would say “Visitors report to the site manager.”

Men work on a natural gas valve at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)

So I would go and drive up a little road and look for the site manager, and he was pointed at to me: “That is the trailer.” And I would go there and knock on the door, and they would be fine and happy to see me, and they would spend time with me.

I said: “I’m here to learn what is happening, what is going on here? I live here, I’m seeing all this massive industrialization, these large rigs, a whole community here on several acres, five acres or more. And it is like a city, an industrial city, with trailers, equipment and lots of noise, and smoke and smells and tucks, so can you tell me more about it?” And they would.
RT: Is this really the way you have been going about it, maybe you overstepped the marker by being a bit too aggressive, because Cabot has spent a lot of money getting you off their back, so they must be worried about you?
VS:
Well, they are not worried about me, they are worried about their pocketbook. They are worried about their profits and image, because I’m exposing them and letting the world know, that Cabot is continuing to have violations by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and they are up to now 520 violations since 2008 in just our county alone in Pennsylvania.

And I expose them, I call every regulatory agency I can think of: The DEP, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), also for the workers. I called OSHA several times this year. Finally they came out and they violated Halliburton and Baker Hughes which are fracking companies that work for Cabot and they showed how the workers are overexposed to respirable silica dust. Even though they claim they take several types of precautions and they supposedly protect their workers. The workers are not. They were exposed to six times the level that is allowed by law in our country.
And now they have fines and they have a whole violation written up about them. So they don’t want me to see them, they don’t want me to talk about them, because I’m willing to talk, to expose, and call anybody I have too to let the world know what is happening to us.

Equipment used for the extraction of natural gas is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)

RT: So this isn’t a setback for you now?
VS: Well it is not actually much of a setback, because they are saying that I can’t go unto any of the properties that I leased, I can stay just on the road. So I will do everything I can from the road. I have a new camera with a more powerful zoom lens, and I will bring in the images. And I still bring the tours in, and the legislators from New York and from around the world. People from all over the world come here besides from New York and other states. We want to see what Cabot will not show them on a tour.
RT:
Well I guess the focus there now, it has given you more PR more exposure, hasn’t it? Pennsylvania, along with Texas, has turned into something of a fracking haven for companies. What damage has actually been done in your state, Pennsylvania?
VS: Well what has been done – to my county, to my neighborhood, to people I know – is that their water has been contaminated and their air has been contaminated, and we are in danger of our health and our safety from various aspects of the industry.
And I’ve met these people, and I’ve talked to them and I’ve interviewed them and I’ve videotaped them, and then I bring media to see and meet them - especially those who can still talk because, as time goes by, most them are eventually are sealed shut by the nondisclosures and gagging orders by the industry. The industry does not want freedom of speech here; that is why they are trying to silence me. They are trying to keep me away and discredit me and not allow them to get exposed.
RT: You went as far as to take Yoko Ono as well as Susan Sarandon on tours of fracking sites. What can they say about it?

VS: They were shocked like everybody is. Whoever comes on my tours is shocked. They cannot believe that they are doing this in neighborhoods next to homes within 300 feet, next to schools, on school properties. All of the school districts, we have five of them in my county are leased. Three of them are leased to Cabot.
We have drill wells on one school district, high pressure gas pipelines. And not only high pressure gas pipelines, it’s all over our county, they have been putting in new ones all the way up to 30 inches or more.

A natural gas well is drilled near Canton, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania (Reuters / Les Stone)

RT: Proponents of fracking say that if it's done right, and if you follow all the regulations, it inflicts only limited damage. Is there any truth in this, in your opinion? If it is done properly?
VS: There is no properly because the process itself is flawed. You cannot pour millions of gallons of liquid laced with sand and with chemicals under super high pressures down all these drilled holes without having consequences. And the consequences are now rippling through our county, throughout our state and throughout the US where 34 states are being drilled. You cannot do these things without consequences and they are dire consequences and as time goes on, more of it is revealed.
RT: Oil companies say fracking has brought down fuel prices in the US but I wonder of your biggest struggle is trying to convince those consumers that are far away from you, far away from the shale sides. Are they really concerned about what is happening to the environment what is not in their back garden?

VS: Well they are getting more concerned because this whole fracking madness is spreading all over the planet. They want to frack as many countries as possible, and so more people are becomming aware of it. And I’m getting people here from all over Europe, N. America, Africa to come to see for themselves besides what they hear from the gas companies. Because the gas company will admit to no problems: “Everything is hunky-dory, everything is covered, all the bases are covered, we have nothing to worry about folks. We know what we are doing.” That is why Cabot has 520 violations by the DEP and millions in fines. They know – supposedly– what they are doing.
RT:
What would you say to UK citizens where plans are also underway to frack?
VS: I would say, please don’t do it. Don’t allow them in. Once they are in its harder to get rid of them. And tell your legislators, just like some legislators have come here from the UK and lots of media, come and see for yourself, come and see what they are doing next to our homes, our schools, our farms, and exposing even our food production and our animals to all the toxic emissions by the dozens of compressor stations.
We have about 48 compressor stations right now in our county alone, which spew out tons of toxic emissions every day besides the noise. You have noise pollution, light pollution, traffic pollution.
If you want this in your neighborhood for a limited form of energy… Even now the five-year-old wells that we have, are down to about a quarter or an eight of the production they had five years ago.
If you want to sacrifice your lives, our environment, our health and the future generation’s health and safety for limited form of energy, then please think again. Remember we need to go for renewables that are non-polluting that are unlimited in the source.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.