SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) – Environmentalists claim the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Homeland Security contracted with an Institute of Terrorism Research and Response to spy on them and disseminate reports that classify them as “potential threats against critical infrastructure.” The group says the spying was revealed after the director of the state agency mistakenly sent an email about it to an environmentalist instead of to the natural gas industry. Newspaper stories followed, and the governor apologized and canceled the contract, according to the federal complaint.
The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition claims the defendants spied on and reported on them as though the group were “actual terrorists, simply and only because they exercise their First Amendment rights in a lawful and peaceful manner against a political agenda favored by certain state actors.”
The Coalition monitors what it calls unregulated drilling in the Marcellus Shale, immense deposits of natural gas. Drilling companies “inject large volumes of a toxic and carcinogenic brew of hydraulic fluid deep into the ground to destroy subsurface rock strata to force the natural gas contained therein to the surface for collection and distribution,” according to the complaint.
“A nasty, and inevitable, byproduct of the unregulated pumping of hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic hydraulic fluid deep into the ground is the likely contamination of groundwater with known carcinogens.” The group says the fracturing of underground rock also could make the gas migrate to aquifers, making the water pumped from it “flammable and explosive.”
And the group claims that such hydraulic fracturing has been exempted from federal regulation and the Clean Water Act because of pressure, and campaign donations, from oil and gas drillers.
The environmental group claims the defendant state agency gave the nonprofit Institute of Terrorism Research and Response a $125,000 contract in October 2009, “whereby defendants ITRR Foundation and/or ITRR would regularly surveil and report on potential terrorist threats against the Commonwealth’s critical infrastructure.”
The contract made the ITRR and its co-defendant president, Michael Perelman, “state actors,” the environmentalists say. ITRR is based in York, Pa.
The Coalition claims that “Defendants retaliated against plaintiff’s speech by including plaintiff in a prolonged and secret campaign of domestic surveillance and incorporated the results of such surveillance into tri-weekly ‘Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletins’ which expressly reported on plaintiff’s conduct along with the conduct of actual known terrorist organizations. The Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletins characterized plaintiff’s conduct and protected speech as some quantum of a potential threat to critical infrastructure within the Commonwealth – all without any evidence that plaintiff posed any remote or indirect physical threat to drilling interests or property. …
“Simply stated, the gas drilling industry is desperate to prevent citizens from gaining access to the available visual evidence of the aftermath of gas drilling in other natural gas fields using the same drilling techniques employed, and about to be expanded, in the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania.”
The environmentalists claim the defendants described as “militant measures” the group’s plan to disseminate information at a community picnic.
The group says it found out about all this when defendant James Powers Jr., director of the state’s Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Homeland Security mistakenly sent an email to an environmentalist instead of to the natural gas industry.
The group claims Gov. Ed Rendell learned about defendants’ “surveillance and reporting regime and of the $125,000 annual contract signed between defendant Powers and defendants ITRR Foundation and/or ITRR and Perelman from an article published in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.”
The article came after environmentalists posted Powers’ misdirected email on the Internet.
The complaint continues: “Gov. Rendell alleges that he immediately canceled the surveillance and reporting contract between the Commonwealth and defendants ITRR Foundation and/or ITRR and Perelman. At a press conference, Gov. Rendell apologized to groups targeted in the PIBs, noting that protesting is a constitutional right. Gov. Rendell, heretofore, has refused calls to fire defendant Powers.”
The group wants all the information collected about it destroyed, plus costs and “nominal damages,” of $125,000, and an injunction to protect it, and similar groups, from surveillance of legal activities.
The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition is represented by Paul Rossi of Kennett Square, Pa.