By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A court injunction obtained by Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas is preventing Pennsylvania resident Vera Scroggins from going to her local grocery store, her friends' homes, schools, or even the hospital.
That's because those properties sit atop the more than 200,000 acres in Susquehanna County that the energy producer owns and leases for gas extraction - land on which Scroggins, a determined anti-fracking activist, is not allowed to tread.
A judge in October granted Cabot's request to bar Scroggins from the land - more than 40 percent of Susquehanna County, where she lives - after her repeated trespassing, court documents show. Her offending actions included giving a tour last year to anti-drilling celebrities Susan Sarandon, Yoko Ono, and Sean Lennon, the documents said.
Scroggins, 62, is a long-time opponent of energy drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania, especially the method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of injecting water, chemicals and sand into underground shale formations to extract oil and gas.
The use of fracking in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years as drillers found ways to extract more hydrocarbons from shale. The boom has transformed parts of northern Pennsylvania and divided communities drawn by the monetary rewards that energy production brings, but concerned by its impact on the environment.
"I have to watch what I do," said Scroggins, whose anti-fracking video footage made its way into "Gasland," an Oscar-nominated documentary by Josh Fox.
"I have to stop and tell myself, you're not supposed to be there. I've been going to these places for over 20 years. I can't stop in at friends' when I'm driving around," she said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Scroggins is headed back to court on March 24 - this time with a lawyer - to argue for overturning the injunction. When Judge Kenneth Seamans imposed the injunction in Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in October, Scroggins acted as her own lawyer against Cabot's lawyers.
Vic Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU and one of her lawyers, said neither state law nor the gas leases themselves give Cabot the right to tell private property owners who may come on their land. It is also a freedom of speech and freedom of travel issue, he said.
Cabot, according to court documents, cited Scroggins' repeated trespassing — in asking the court to exclude her from any property it owns, plus the 200,000 acres it leases.
Company spokesman George Stark said Cabot is open to a modification of the injunction to limit it to actual gas facilities and the roads leading to them.
"Cabot's primary concern is with operational sites where safety issues are concerned," he said, adding that Cabot supports freedom of expression.
(Editing by Edward McAllister, Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)
- court injunction