Anti-fracking activist banned from Pennsylvania land heads to court

HARRISBURG, Pa., March 24 Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:00am EDT

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HARRISBURG, Pa., March 24 (Reuters) - An anti-fracking activist is set to ask a Pennsylvania judge on Monday to lift an injunction that bars her from her local hospital, grocery and other properties that sit atop vast lands leased by a Texas-based company for shale gas extraction.

A five-month-old injunction prohibits Vera Scroggins, 63, of Brackney, Pennsylvania, from setting foot onto 40 percent of Susquehanna County that is leased by Cabot Oil and Gas.

At Monday's hearing in Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in Montrose, Pennsylvania, Scroggins and her lawyers from the Pennsylvania ACLU and Public Citizen in Washington, D.C., will argue that the injunction was legally flawed, unconstitutional, and set a dangerous precedent by making much of the region where she lives off limits.

Judge Kenneth Seamans, who issued the injunction in October at the request of Cabot, will rule on the request.

"In the company's view, the right to extract gas also includes the right to control the movements of an individual protesting the company's activities," Scroggins said in court documents. "In short, the right to extract gas is, according to the company, also the right to banish."

Scroggins is known for recording anti-fracking video footage, some of which was used in "Gasland," an Oscar-nominated documentary by Josh Fox.

Fracking is the controversial process of injecting water, chemicals, and sand into the underground shale formation to extract oil and gas. It has brought about a gas boom in recent years in northeastern Pennsylvania, but also concerns about its impact on the environment.

According to Cabot, Scroggins engaged in at least 11 incidents of trespassing to make her anti-fracking videos or lead tours, one of which included the participation of celebrities Susan Sarandon, Yoko Ono, and Sean Lennon.

Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company is open to a modification of the injunction limiting 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 Barbara Goldberg)

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