by Chris Potter
A couple of developments worth noting on the Marcellus Shale front.
First, yesterday the non-profit journalism outfit ProPublica reported on law-enforcement warnings about environmental extremists that oppose natural-gas drilling in the deeply buried shale layer. The document (which City Paper has also independently obtained a copy of) is an "intelligence bulletin" dated Aug. 30 and intended for "potentially affected skateholders -- whether public or private sector."
The bulletin warns that extremists may "try to intimidate companies," and warns of "several recent reported criminal incidents toward energy companies." But it discloses no details about those occurrences -- and indeed cites a "lack of direct reporting" on threats. It does, however, itemize a list of events that "have been singled out for attendance by anti-Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas drilling activists." These include such radical gatherings as a Pittsburgh City Council hearing on drilling slated for Sept. 13, and a zoning hearing in Upper St. Clair scheduled for Oct. 4.
Many of the dates in the document have no connection to gas drilling: Also on the list are Ramadan -- an Islamic holy month that terrorists consider "auspicious period for attacks" -- and that Koran-burning idiot down in Florida. (Also noted in the report: critiques of PNC Bank's financing of mountaintop-removal mining practices.)
But the bulletin makes a point of warning that "environmental extremism [is] likely to become a greater threat to the energy sector." Citing an FBI report from August, it cautions that "Environmental extremists continue to target the energy industry by committting criminal incidents, primarily to opose the fossil-fuel industry." While thus far incidents have consisted of minor vandalism and trespassing, the report warns that environmentalists "may be transitioning to more criminal, extremist measures actions [sic]. Based on several recent reported criminal incidents ... environmental extremism will become a greater threat to the energy industry."
Moreover, it notes that "Pennsylvania has gained a prominent position in the production of natural gas from drilling operations within the Marcellus Shale Formation. Analysts expect that groups of environmental activists and militants on the one hand -- and property owerns, mining and drilling companies on the other -- will be focusing their attention on one another in the future months as production increases."
The ProPublica dispatch includes some assurances from public officials that -- as a gubernatorial spokesman says -- "All this security bulletin does is raise awareness of local officials. It doesn't accuse anyone of local activity."
But it's pretty clear that officials would prefer you not know they are paying attention. Philadelphia City Paper reported earlier today on a follow-up e-mail sent out by the chief of the state's Homeland Security operation. In that e-mail -- which was intended for a private audience, -- state Homeland Security head James Powers urges that the Bulletin "is not for dissemination in the public domain." It is, instead, meant only for "owners/operators & security personnel associated with our critical infrastructure & key resources ... [I]t should only be disseminated via closed communications systems."
Well, that horse is out of the barn, apparently. And ironically enough, the Powers e-mail leaked, apparently, because he sent it to the wrong guy.
"We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies," he wrote.
None of this strikes me as too surprising -- and I guess it's nice that somebody is paying attention to those city council meetings. A lot of this bulletin seems to be more in "heads-up" mode. And in any case, I suppose in these post-9/11 times, we've all suspected something like was going on.
Even so, I know of a few environmentalists who are a little creeped out by the idea of secret government surveillance. Although they have at least one bit of consolation -- judging from Powers' e-mail gaffe, the government isn't very good at it yet.