Journalism in the Public Interest

Do ‘Environmental Extremists’ Pose Criminal Threat to Gas Drilling?

A state bulletin warns that environmental “extremists” may target public hearings and other events for criminal activity to protest natural gas drilling in rural parts of Pennsylvania, but drilling opponents say the threat is exaggerated. 

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Patrick Walker

Sep. 12, 2010, 6:58 a.m.

Jim from Oklahoma, when you say, “Everyone has a right to be wrong,” to whom are you referring? If to me, you should at least give an argument. “Agreeing to disagree” is something people should do only after they’ve made their arguments and seen that there are basic questions of values on which they can’t reach common ground. Which is perhaps true here. But seeking to “agree to disagree” without making any arguments only leads trained minds to suspect that your arguments are weak ones.

You may talk of my “philosophical musings,” as if my viewpoint is some airy dreaming that’s irrelevant here, but people who dismiss philosophical argument always themselves fall victims of unexamined assumptions (It’s impossible to think without making them). Any serious political debate involves philosophical assumptions, especially about what’s meaningful and important in life; if you don’t think so, just read the “Federalist papers,” arguing for states to ratify the newly drafted U.S. Constitution. You can hardly read a page without finding “philosophical musings.”

And Drill Master repeats the same shallow sound bite about hypocrisy I’ve heard time and again; I don’t know if he got it from industry, but it’s typical of industry spin. It hardly counts as hypocrisy to live with the consequences of decisions forced on you by previous choices made by your society; virtually everyone has to do that. But when you become aware of the flaws in those choices, you’re obliged to work to correct them, even if you’re still forced to live with their consequences.

Cars are a definite example. I personally lived without one every time it was practically possible—over 20 years in total. But then I lived in cities and had access to decent public transportation. And unfortunately the bicycle, probably the greatest short-distance transport option ever invented, has been made largely unsafe by roads built for cars, tractor-trailers, etc. So I walked a lot, as I still do. But because America decided to base its life on the private auto, even those of us who find that misguided and are working to change it still have to live with the consequences, however little we like them. That hardly makes us hypocrites.

And finally, even if we accept a world dependent on natural gas as our basis for discussion, there are still safe and unsafe ways of doing things. A person’s hardly a hypocrite for seeking the safe ones. And on that topic, I again think Mary Sweeney makes an excellent case.


Sep. 12, 2010, 11:42 a.m.

Drill Master can neither spell, nor does he post anything containing documented fact, and yet he refers to the majority of the posters on this list as “none (sic)- reasoning.”
The environment as such may not have any rights - it is an ill-defined entity and certainly not capable of participating in discourse.  But the people whose health is affected by a fouled environment do have rights, and it was these individuals about whom we were concerned at the outset.  The only individuals for whom the brilliant Drill Master seems to care.  And yes, those people want both electricity and clean water.  Industry (which, according to current US law as interpreted by the Roberts Court, DOES have rights, in the form of “corporate personhood”) could use its vast resources to figure out how to achieve this.  If it can’t, then the people whose property rights and clean water rights are affected ought to be able to choose whether they want power or clean water more and make a decision based on priorities.

Mary Sweeney

Sep. 12, 2010, 1:57 p.m.

On the issue of hypocrisy:

Along came the shale gas rush, and with it, many who want to drill supposedly because they are deeply concerned about our nation’s energy supply. My question for these folks is, my gosh, where have you been all these years?

For the last quarter century, my husband and I have been doing our best to limit our energy use even though we live in a culture that loves to waste energy and has arranged its public infrastructure accordingly. No matter where the energy comes from, the less you use, the more you will have in reserve for future use.  But all around us energy is being wasted. And shale gas energy will be wasted too, unless we, as nation, become extremely serious about conservation and energy efficiency.

It is certainly possible that some of those who have suddenly begun expressing concern about our nation’s energy supply are legitimately concerned and are convinced (wrongly, in my reasonably well informed opinion) that shale gas is the answer. But I have heard this “hypocrisy” accusation so many times in recent months from so many people who are counting on shale gas to make them wealthy, that it is difficult not to conclude that at least some of those who have suddenly become so concerned about energy use are really just looking for arguments to support shale gas drilling. If the shale gas proponents who are using this “hyprocrisy” argument don’t want to be labeled as hypocrites themselves, then they had all better be conserving energy at a rate that rivals that of the very best environmentalists.

Patrick Walker

Sep. 12, 2010, 3:12 p.m.

Another solid point, Mary. I like what you’ve said so much they’ll think you’re paying me to praise your comments.

In fact, it’s very hard to give the benefit of the doubt and not simply conclude pro-drillers are hypocrites when they use environmental arguments. If they really cared for the environment, they’d be cautious about rushing ahead with hydraulic fracking in deep shale, which seems the only reasonable position given current scientific knowledge. It strikes me as bizarre that my state, PA, is rushing ahead with this process at the very same time Congress has commissioned the EPA to study its safety. Nor do I hear pro-drillers recommend that Congress vastly increase funding for the EPA study, which, to fulfill its planned scope and purpose, retired EPA scientist and whistleblower Weston Wilson strongly recommends.

Finally, I wonder how many pro-drillers are (conveniently) global warming sceptics. Robert Howarth’s Cornell study suggests that, when extraction is considered, fracked natural gas is almost as bad a greenhouse culprit as mountaintop coal. Even the less damning MIT study says natural gas (extraction included) is dirty enough that it’s probably not worth the effort to convert cars to natural gas. Anyone who is not cautious in light of these studies is certainly no environmentalist, but a hypocrite in daring to use that word.

BTW, our political right likes to attach negative connotations to the word “environmentalist.” I respond, “So what are you, pollutionists?” I dare them to name any reasonable alternative to being an environmentalist.


Sep. 12, 2010, 10:28 p.m.

Mr. Walker, when I referred to your philosophical musings I was referring to three (3) comments you made in your post on Saturday at 10:48 a.m. – 1) “I find Mary Sweeney’s post above an excellent example of sound reasoning by a women [sic]”.  One the surface, this statement seems particularly chauvinistic, and I found it an odd statement coming from an individual that speaks about “the objective pursuit of truth”.  2)  “With the political will, the same human ingenuity that figured out how to extract gas from deep shale would solve the problem of having both.”  Here in the southern plains we have lived harmoniously with the exploration, exploitation, development and production of hydrocarbons since the early 1900s.  In the early days it was not uncommon for gas, crude oil and brine to be released to the environment on a regular basis. Prior to implementing the use of drilling mud and rotary drilling technology, wells were drilled with cable tool technology and when the driller penetrated a hydrocarbon reservoir, oil, gas and brine blew to the surface uncontrollably.  The petroleum industry, while not perfect has come a long way since then and has clearly demonstrated that it can both extract resources from the ground and act as good stewards of the environment.  Efforts to correct abuses of the past led to the development of laws and regulations such as the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.  3) You stated that, “Aristotle found the money motive unworthy of a gentleman…”  You and I agree on the issue of plutocratic rule, however I believe our current system (especially under the current administration) comes closer to being a plutarchy. Clearly there is much one can find to be cynical about. For example, why not search for the truth about the billions of dollars Moody’s and the rating agencies made giving Triple A ratings to collateralized debt obligations/mortgage backed securities?

I hope this clarifies my statement, “we can agree to disagree.” The statement I made, “everyone has the right to be wrong” means that I respectfully give you the right to your opinion, even if I think it’s wrong.

Mary Sweeney

Sep. 13, 2010, 12:09 a.m.

In reply to Jim: Since Mr. Walker prefaced his comment with the phrase “Contrary to Drill Master’s misogynistic assertions,” I understood Mr. Walker’s comments re women’s ability to reason to be in reply to the post left by Drill Master on Sep. 10 at 2:17 pm. In that context, I did not find Mr. Walker’s post to be “chauvinistic”—quite the contrary in fact. 

I would also like to note that it would be wonderful if the oil and gas industry were obligated to obey ALL of the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Regrettably, that is not the case.


Sep. 13, 2010, 10:03 a.m.

I respectfully have to say Mary that you are misinformed when you assert that the petroleum industry is not required to obey “ALL” (your emphasis) of the requirements of the SDWA and CWA. They are absolutely required to adhere to the regulations insomuch as industry activities are regulated under either act.  The fact is that the petroleum industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries on earth. In addition to the SDWA and CWA, other specific acts/regulations which the petroleum industry must comply with include the CAA, NEPA, OSHA, TSCA, HMTA, RCRA, FLPMA, CERCLA, SARA, LLRWPA, NORM and ESA.  Environmental protection and pollution control is a complicated business and is governed by a complicated mixture of Federal, State and local laws administered by numerous agencies. May I suggest that if you want to stay current on all of these, that you refer to the Federal Register and follow the progress and changes in regulations that impact the industry you are specifically interested in tracking (petroleum industry). Also, don’t forget to track the state and local regulations.

Michael Miller

Sep. 13, 2010, 10:40 a.m.

LOL Jim, who do you think you are kidding?  There are specific exemptions from CERCLA and SARA for the petroleum industry.  I’ve been at hundreds of Superfund settlements and never seen a petroleum company.  Why?  Because of those exemptions.  RCRA has all kinds of petroleum waste that are not hazardous because of legal efforts to call hazardous materials non-hazardous.

Mary Sweeney

Sep. 13, 2010, 10:40 a.m.

Jim said:“I respectfully have to say Mary that you are misinformed when you assert that the petroleum industry is not required to obey “ALL” (your emphasis) of the requirements of the SDWA and CWA. They are absolutely required to adhere to the regulations insomuch as industry activities are regulated under either act.”

The key phrase in the above is “insomuch as industry activities are regulated under either act.”

Deana Weaver

Sep. 14, 2010, 4:02 p.m.

Our group has signed onto letters posing our concerns with regard to drilling. It is frustrating to think our support put us in a position to be likened to those who would overstep social bounds, by commiting acts of environmental terrorism. Our concerns are that the DEP is not prepared to monitor and enforce regulations, and that the regulations are not strong enough to protect against this relatively new industry to PA.  Given the Oil and Gas industries have been exempted from Clean Streams and Clean Water Regulations, by the Bush Administration circa 2005, our state is not on a level playing field to protect our water resources. The actions taken by our Legislature, to push forward with leases, is greed driven.
Rather than commiting acts which make the gas industry appear the “innocent victims,” I implore restraint among all those who are so passionate as to participate in activities which may create the disasters we are fighting to prevent.

Loren Dilmann

Sep. 14, 2010, 8:54 p.m.

Public exposure forces PA to cancel contract for covert surveillance of environmentalists

Harrisburg PA newspaper [Patriot-News] reports today: Security contractor ITRR “has been tracking the Internet activity of anti-drilling activists [in the Marcellus Shale controversy] to determine the public meetings they are planning to attend—including public screenings of the film Gasland.”

Penna. Homeland Security Director James Powers admitted that this tracking information “is not meant for the public, but only for those ‘having a valid need to know’,” among whom he includes drilling companies, but not citizens.

Gov. Ed Rendell announced today that Pennsylvania “would not renew” its contract with ITRR:

But Rendell did not immediately fire James Powers, the responsible official, nor call for an investigation by the state Legislature or Attorney General.  Thus, there is no guarantee that covert tracking of legal activities, such as environmental activism, will not continue in another disguise.

ITRR has been named repeatedly as one of the shadowy security contractors who receive federal funds [eg, from DHS and DoD], and which pose a threat to civil liberties due to their “unwarranted domestic spying”:

ITRR has been criticized for its practice of re-branding lawful public protest as “low-level terrorism”:

The ACLU reported June 10 that “Anti-terrorism training materials currently used by the federal DoD teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as ‘low level terrorism’.”

This incident in Pennsylvania should open the eyes of all Americans to a clear and present danger.

Nathanael Nerode

Sep. 15, 2010, 5:14 a.m.

Jim, did you not know about the circa 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act given to the oil and gas industry by Republicans in Congress and George W. Bush?  If so, look it up.


Sep. 15, 2010, 2:11 p.m.

This tactic is so old! You know I once fought a highway being built over my house with my neighbors. We didn’t break the law. We didn’t threaten anyone. We didn’t vandalize anything. All we did was show up for public meetings, ASK really hard questions that made the highway people look bad, dig up documents that were subject to the Sunshine Laws, and show up for city council meetings. This was over 10 years ago. They compared us to terrorists too. It is an abuse of the term, it is an abuse of power, because these public servants have direct unmitigated access to the press, and to law enforcement, and use those channels to imply or outright say things that hold no basis in fact. The only terrorists were the people who wanted to lie to the citizens to build a toll road over properpties owned mostly by retirees on fixed incomes and poor minorities, while instilling fear of our groups through a whisper campaign. Fun is being followed by the cops all the time.
Homeland Security is not here to protect America. Homeland security is here to protect the plutocracy.


Sep. 15, 2010, 2:16 p.m.

I would also add, that this discussion about justifying the use of Homeland Security Terrorist tactics to monitor innocent Americans watching a movie—really tells me how much many of you missed the point of this story.

When will this stop? When do we Americans get to see the list? If one is on the list, then how does one get off the list? Or is this like the NoFly List and you can never get off of it?

We have the right to peaceably assemble. Though I am sure no one thought they would have to invoke that right to go see a movie in a public theatre.

We have the right to privacy, no unreasonable search and seizures. But for all we know this list has generated investigations that are based on something that in no way resembles probable cause. Habeus Schmabeus.

So while you all discuss the merits of Fracking. Someone else is running off with your constitutional rights.

Just thought you might want to know.


Sep. 16, 2010, 11:37 p.m.

Hmmm…. “including two in which a shotgun was reportedly fired at a gas facility.” That’s one of those vague phrases that could have any number of meanings while still being true: does it mean protesters shot toward a facility, a person at one or more facilities fired toward a protestor, or hunters were in the wrong place and fired shotguns?


Sep. 20, 2010, 7:40 p.m.

To Drillmaster and friends - take out the drills you master in and out of your asses and tell us how much you get paid to spew your illiterate nonsense…I’m personally interested because I find your diatribes funny as hell.

In fact, I’m printing this commentor thread out and sending it widely abroad.

I’m sure everybody I know, and who they know, and those who know those who know who I know, etc., will also get a chuckle out of how gansters hire anonymous provocateurs to protect their corporations.

Hired surreptitious rats whose only job it is to disrupt public debate and pocket some fast, cool cash.  Why, If this wasn’t so thoroughly and time-dishonored an American plutocratic practice, it might even be shocking…and that’s why it’s funny.

On the other hand - a plutocrat’s land is sacrosant whereas the property belonging to ordinary citizens may be plundered and despoiled by plutocratic agents with impudent impunity…and that ain’t too funny, drill-butts.

Carol Davidek-Waller

Sep. 30, 2010, 3:21 p.m.

If you are a corporate bad actor, it’s nice to have a President that will allow the jailing of activitists for no particular reason.


Oct. 6, 2010, 9:26 p.m.

Where did probublica get a copy of the homeland advisory? is it from documentcloud? Interesting document as it makes mention of a private sector to which alerts are sent. I’ll postulate that that would be, mainly corporate entities.

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This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

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