Law Enforcement, Industry Share Info on Anti-Fracking Activists
Law enforcement and private industry groups have shared information about anti-fracking activists, StateImpact reports, raising questions whether police officers have been used to intimidate those activists on the industry’s behalf.
StateImpact says documents obtained under Pennylvania’s “Right to Know” law reveal the existence of the Marcellus Shale Operators’ Crime Committee, in which the industry and local, state, and federal public safety agencies swap information “about activists, protests, and potential threats.”
The report confirms an October report by Pittsburgh City Paper about the ties between law enforcement and industry, and comes just weeks after the state settled a lawsuit after the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition said he had been targeted by law enforcement officials for unconstitutional surveillance of its members.
“A spokesman for the state’s main gas industry trade group, The Marcellus Shale Coalition, declined to comment for this story,” StateImpact reports, “but sent an email saying, ‘safety is the industry’s top priority.’”
But some anti-fracking activists say they’ve been targeted by law enforcement officials merely for exercising their First Amendment rights. “The vast majority of people who are involved today in the anti-fracking movement are law-abiding citizens,” an ACLU official said.
One activist who was visited last year by state police, Bloomsburg University professor Wendy Lee, filed a “Right to Know” request to find out why she’d been scrutinized.
Months later, her request was denied. Among other reasons, the police said the records were part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
“They don’t tell me whether I’m the object of that investigation– which would be quite mystifying — and they don’t tell me in any way I would be connected to that investigation if I am not its object.” she says.
Lee thinks the visit was simply to intimidate her.
“While we get to believe we have the free exercise of our First Amendment rights, we’re not actually supposed to use them.”
An FBI official told StateImpact that the agency’s job is to protect against threats to infrastructure.
“The FBI is not in the business of investigating or tracking groups for having specific beliefs,” he said. “That’s not within our jurisdiction or within the law.”