Pa. court loosens limits on anti-fracking activist's movements

Vera Scroggins was barred from a fracking company's leased land, which included her grocery store and hospital

One anti-fracking activist’s life is about to get a little bit easier.

A Pennsylvania judge on Friday loosened a court injunction restricting the movements of Vera Scroggins, who was banned from setting foot on property owned by or leased to Cabot Oil & Gas Co. in Susquehanna County — and therefore unable to shop at her favorite grocery store, go to the nearby hospital, or visit some of her friends.

Scroggins has been lauded by environmentalists — and has become notorious among oil and gas operators — after years of giving fellow activists, local residents and even celebrities tours of local hydraulic fracturing operations.

Cabot contended that Scroggins had often trespassed on the company’s property, endangering herself and others.

The company got a local court injunction last October aimed at keeping Scroggins away, and it became a hot-button issue in activist circles because of its scope. Cabot owns or has leases on 40 percent of the land in the largely rural county — a total of 300 square miles. That land includes grocery stores, a hospital, malls, and the property of Scroggins’ friends.

The new injunction, issued this week by Susquehanna Judge Kenneth Seamans after Scroggins appealed, still bars her from active fracking sites. But it allows her to go to many non-fracking sites, such as her local hospital and grocery store, even though Cabot has leases there.

"This is a big step in the right direction," Scroggins said. “Basically I had to watch where I could go and not go. I had to look up things at the courthouse. I had stopped going to a couple of restaurants, to the ophthalmologist. I couldn’t go visit friends that I’d visited every month or week (before the original injunction).”

Cabot said it was pleased with the judge’s decision, pointing out he still upheld that Scroggins would pose a danger if allowed on drilling sites.

“The court looked at the facts and concluded that Ms. Scroggins' wrongful conduct ‘is manifest – well documented,’ in that she had trespassed and was placing herself and others in harm's way,” Cabot said in an email to Al Jazeera.

But Scroggins said the new injunction doesn’t go far enough in reinstating her rights. She and her supporters still want the original injunction — or at least the mandate that she stays 100 feet away from drilling sites — rescinded, arguing that she is currently hindered from seeing and recording what the company is doing.

Scroggins, a retired nurse, began giving tours of fracking sites and recording videos of drilling operations five years ago. She said hundreds of people have taken her tours, including celebrities Yoko Ono and Susan Sarandon.

Scroggins believes fracking has caused water and air pollution, and is a danger to the health of oil and gas workers, as well as many Pennsylvania residents. She maintains that Cabot sought the injunction not because of real danger, but because of her activism.

She said her case sets a troubling precedent for companies looking to silence activists.

“I was showing people what they were actually doing,” she said. “That’s why they considered me a danger.”

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