By Michael Rubinkam
A high-profile anti-fracking activist who often gives tours of natural gas drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region asked a judge Monday for relief from an order barring her from stepping foot on more than 300 square miles of land owned or leased by one of the state’s leading natural gas drillers.
Vera Scroggins said the injunction, in place since October, has effectively prevented her from traveling to her favorite grocery store, eye doctor, hospital, restaurants, businesses and friends’ homes because all of them have leased land to Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
Her attorneys asked Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth Seamans to lift or modify his order. A ruling could come this week.
“It’s tough to try to figure out, where can I stand? Where can I walk?” Scroggins said after the hearing in Montrose. “I never used to have to think about that. It’s not a pleasant thing to endure.”
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A company spokesman said Cabot is only interested in preventing the activist from trespassing on its active drilling sites and contended that Scroggins, who’s used to attracting media attention, is simply out for more publicity.
Scroggins regularly gives bus tours to politicians, community groups, and anti-fracking celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Susan Sarandon, showing them drilling sites, pipelines, compressor stations and other signs of Pennsylvania’s burgeoning gas industry and introducing them to residents who say they’ve been harmed. She often posts videos of natural gas production sites online.
Cabot said it sought the order because Scroggins habitually trespassed onto its land, putting herself and her guests in harm’s way, distracting employees from their work and interfering with natural gas production. Each time, Scroggins was ordered to leave or escorted off the property and told not to come back, but she refuses to stay away, the company said.
Seamans’ order bars Scroggins from entering property “owned and/or leased by Cabot … including but not limited to well sites, well pads and access roads.” That accounts for nearly 40 percent of Susquehanna County’s land mass.
Scroggins said she’s spent hours in the county courthouse trying to figure out where she can and can’t go.
“Somebody like Vera is indispensable in trying to monitor what is going on up in Susquehanna County,” said one of her lawyers, Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “And when you get an injunction of the type that Cabot secured last October, you’re essentially putting her out of business. You’re preventing her from being able to engage in this timeless function of citizen activist.”
Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company has told Scroggins and her lawyers repeatedly since January that Cabot has no interest in Scroggins’ choice of grocery store or hospital.
“The focus has been on our active work sites,” he said. “The incidents were escalating and the amount of people she was bringing and putting in harm’s way was increasing. … We had to take an action. We had asked her in the past to not trespass. She did not listen.”
Cabot told the judge it is willing to modify the injunction to specify that Scroggins isn’t permitted to intrude on well sites, access roads, staging areas and other places where the company is active. Scroggins’ attorneys object to Cabot’s proposed 150-foot setback requirement.
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