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Homeland Security in cahoots with fracking gas corporations

Published Sep 22, 2010 9:19 PM

Evidence that Pennsylvania’s Department of Homeland Security is working on behalf of the natural gas industry came to light in early September when internal department bulletins were leaked to an anti-drilling listserve. The department had contracted an Israeli-linked agency to spy on anti-drilling activists.

The story was later leaked to reporters at Pro Publica and the City Paper. These papers’ articles suggested a direct connection between the state agency and the natural gas industry. The exposure fueled outrage from targeted groups.

Gov. Ed Rendell had to retreat. On Sept. 14, he held a press conference to apologize to groups who had been monitored. “Protesting is not a threat, it’s an American right,” said Rendell. He said he was “appalled” and announced that the state would not renew its $125,000 no-bid contract with the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response, set to expire in October.

ITRR has a post office box address in Philadelphia. It also has strong links to the Israeli spy agency Mossad and the Israeli Defense Force. These institutions are known for their terrorist activities against the Palestinian people, as well as their deadly assault on the aid flotilla attempting to bring supplies to Gaza in May 2010.

The intelligence bulletin ITRR supplied to the state listed as possible terrorist threats protests outside the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia.

The confidential bulletin suggested that opponents of gas drilling were “violent terrorists” in need of monitoring. The memo combined the word “environmental” with “extremist, militant, and criminal.” It warned that “criminals may soon escalate activities” directed at the gas drilling industry.

The bulletin also listed as potential risks demonstrations by anti-war groups, deportation protests in Philadelphia, a gay pride event, activities by Black Power radicals, an animal rights protest and a demonstration in support of the Ft. Dix Five endorsed by the International Action Center.

It advised Homeland Security and FBI agents to monitor environmental actions, including several hearings about Marcellus Shale drilling across the state; a City Council hearing in Pittsburgh, where the industry wants to drill in a public park; and screenings in Philadelphia of the anti-drilling documentary, “Gasland.”

A timely error exposes the truth

Office of Homeland Security Director James F. Powers Jr. apparently had the mistaken impression that the listserve which leaked the original bulletin was pro-drilling. He sent a private e-mail that read, in part, “Although an internet forum is certainly a great way to spread the word and receive input from forum participants, it’s still in the public domain and thus be accessed by both pro and anti-natural gas drilling folk.

“Please assist us in keeping the information provided in the PIB [informational bulletin] to those having a valid need-to-know. ... 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.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge served as the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security after George W. Bush established the department in 2002. In early August 2010, two consulting firms owned by Ridge signed contracts to serve as strategic advisors to the pro-industry Marcellus Shale Coalition for a hefty $900,000.

Austin Kelley is an activist with Philadelphia-based Protecting Our Waters, which works to educate the public about health impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Kelley announced that his organization is calling for a full investigation into exactly what happened and “what role the gas industry played.”

Speaking of Rendell’s retreat, Kelley said, “Being appalled is not enough.” Kelley suggested that an independent inquiry explore whether James Powers, director of Pennsylvania Homeland Security, misused taxpayer dollars in providing lists of anti-drilling activities to private companies drilling in Pennsylvania for profit. (P.O.W. news release Sept. 3)

“The Marcellus Shale industry is paying big bucks to push their drill-hard-drill-fast-before-science-and-regulators-can-catch-up agenda in Pennsylvania,” said Amy Wilson of Protecting Our Waters. “Tom Ridge is their best PR tool right now, and we have to wonder whether Ridge in turn used PA Homeland Security as a tool against clean water/public health advocates, as part of a public relations strategy to delegitimize anyone who questions the industry.”

Meanwhile the real threat to communities across the state is clear. Earlier in September the Susquehanna River in northeast Pennsylvania began bubbling with methane gas after shale gas drilling operations started within two miles of the river. “We don’t know the ramifications of this,” local resident Don Palmer told WNEP TV, Channel 16. “All we know is that gas coming out of the river is explosive,” said Palmer, who is also an engineer. (P.O.W. news release) The proposed 442-mile Millennium Pipeline, which would deliver natural gas from Canada to New York, snakes through significant portions of the Hudson River Valley, including critical fish and wildlife habitats.

New reports of damaged water wells appear almost daily. The number of explosions of gas wells as well as leaks of fracking water containing toxic, radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals into ponds, creeks and ground water is on the rise.

Fracking is going full tilt in Pennsylvania. Writing in Orion magazine, Sandra Steingraber reports that 14 percent of the land in Ithaca, N.Y., has already been leased for drilling, with 40 percent leased in surrounding Rockland County and, “In December 2009, ExxonMobil purchased a large natural gas company, a decision widely viewed as a game-changing commitment to fracking technology.” (May/June 2010)

A Pennsylvania-based developer, East Resources, paid $750 million for rights to 650,000 acres of state forest land in 2009. It recently sold the same rights to Royal Dutch Shell (Shell Oil) for $4.7 billion.

Between July 2009 and June 2010, the state’s 632 producing Marcellus wells released 180 billion cubic feet of gas — an amount more than double Pennsylvania’s annual natural gas production from the years before the shale exploration began.

With fracking exempt from federal environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Superfund law, the fight for state and local regulatory control is at a critical juncture.