Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Oil Company’s Restraining Order Bars Anti-Fracking Protestor From Grocery Store, Friends’ Houses

In October of 2013, Cabot Oil & Gas secured a court order that effectively banned an anti-fracking activist from entering any land owned or leased by the company. But because of the broad scope of the court order, that activist is now claiming she legally can’t go to the grocery store, the hospital, restaurants, and even her friends’ homes.

Vera Scroggins

“It’s tough to try to figure out, where can I stand? Where can I walk?” Vera Scroggins told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “It’s not a pleasant thing to endure.”

Cabot, one of the biggest names in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, had sought a preliminary injunction against Scroggins in October after alleging that she had repeatedly trespassed onto several of the company’s leased and owned properties, giving unauthorized tours of their operations. After hearing testimony from employees and security personnel, Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth Seamans granted Cabot’s request to have Scroggins legally barred from not only the land Cabot owns, but from all the land it holds mineral leases on.

The problem with that, according to Scroggins’ attorneys, is that nearly 40 percent of Susquehanna County land is owned or leased by Cabot. This includes the grocery store, the local recycling center, the hospital that is nearest to her home, and several of her friends’ houses.

“In short, the right to extract gas is, according to the company, also the right to banish,” Scroggins’ attorneys said in a motion asking Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth Seamans to undo his October order. A ruling on that motion could come this week, the Associated Press reports.

In arguing for the ban, Cabot allegedly said that its leases for the mineral rights below properties like the grocery store and hospital granted the company an “exclusive property interest” in that land. But Scroggins — who elected not to have attorney representation at the time of the October order — is now arguing alongside her attorneys that Cabot’s leases contain no language that grant the company such a broad right.

Additionally, her attorneys are saying that Cabot’s request and Judge Seamans’ decision violated Scroggins’ Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and movement.

“The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors,” the motion said. “That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

According to the motion, Cabot isn’t even continuing to seek the broad restraining order. In an amended complaint against Scroggins filed in January, Cabot said it would prefer a more specific but permanent injunction barring Scroggins from entering onto properties owned and leased by Cabot, but only where it is actually conducting operations. The company also wants to ban Scroggins from coming anywhere within 150 feet of that land.

This is hardly the first time an activist fighting against fossil fuel development has find herself in legal hot water.

In Australia, Jonathan Moylan is facing jail time after a fake press release he distributed led to temporary stock market confusion. In the U.S., activist and journalist Mike Stark is being sued for defamation after writing a strongly opinionated article about coal baron Robert Murray. And in November, Canadian environmental writer, illustrator and activist Franke James was blacklisted by the Canadian government for making art that was critical of the Canadian government’s policies with respect to tar sands and climate change.