Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kafka in Susquehanna County

Via the Guardian, I learn about some curious goings-on a couple hours' drive to the north of me:
Vera Scroggins, an outspoken opponent of fracking, is legally barred from the new county hospital. Also off-limits, unless Scroggins wants to risk fines and arrest, are the Chinese restaurant where she takes her grandchildren, the supermarkets and drug stores where she shops, the animal shelter where she adopted her Yorkshire terrier, bowling alley, recycling centre, golf club, and lake shore.
In total, 312.5 sq miles are no-go areas for Scroggins under a sweeping court order granted by a local judge that bars her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in the Pennsylvania natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.
Scroggins, it seems, has been something of a thorn in Cabot's side: Shooting videos of well sites,  confronting workers, reporting suspected health and environmental violations. But not overstepping her bounds: The article quotes the district attorney saying nothing she did was illegal. Then how is there a problem? In my experience,  when someone breaks the law, or even bends it too far, DAs in rural Pennsylvania are hardly shy about saying so.

Now here's the weird part:
The temporary injunction granted on 21 October does not require Cabot to identify or map the lands where it holds drilling leases, putting Scroggins in the bizarre position of having to figure out for herself which areas were off-limits. 
And not only that:
The company was not pressed to demonstrate the gas leases gave it the right to make such absolute decisions about access. "They have no proof that they had the right to exclude her. They didn't present evidence of leases that gave them the right to treat the property as their own," [Scroggins' lawyer, George Kinchy] said.
You may own your land free and clear, and Vera Scroggins may be your best friend, but if you let Cabot put a well out back, you can't choose to have her over for tea. Cabot's hissy fit trumps your free use of property you bought and paid for. (Yes, I realize that if you leased to Cabot, Vera probably wouldn't be your best friend. That's irrelevant.)

So let's review. A woman makes herself a pain in the ass to a gas company. Said company goes  to court, wins the unilateral right to ban her from 312.5 square miles of Susquehanna County (40 percent of its area) and doesn't even have to tell her which square miles those are. 

But wait, there's more.
[T]he company arranged for Tom Shepstone, a consultant who blogs at Natural Gas Now, to speak on its behalf. Shepstone said the injunction was overdue. ...
Cabot in court filings does not accuse Scroggins of violence or of causing harm to property, and she has never been arrested or charged with trespass. She has not chained herself to machinery, or staged sit-ins.
But Shepstone argued Scroggins had upset too many people to be tolerated. "I believe she is a public menace because what she does is she essentially trespasses not so much on property – though she does do that – but she trespasses on the soul of the community," he said. "She does not allow the people of this community any peace."
She trespasses on the soul of the community?! That's quite a theological insight, coming as it does from the company responsible for the water contamination in Dimock:
"Cabot had every opportunity to correct these violations, but failed to do so. Instead, it chose to ignore its responsibility to safeguard the citizens of this community and to protect the natural resources there," said [former DEP Secretary John] Hanger.
The Guardian says a hearing on a permanent injunction is scheduled for March.

I would like to say that what the Guardian describes is un-American. But given some of the stuff that goes on in America these days, I'm not confident that's the right turn of phrase.

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