Pa. homeland security document talks of possible 'environmental extremists'

PITTSBURGH --

An intelligence bulletin from the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security is circulating on the Internet, and it quotes the FBI as saying that "environmental extremists" are likely to become an increasing threat to energy companies.

Gov. Ed Rendell's press secretary, Gary Tuma, confirmed to Channel 4 Action News on Thursday that the document is real.

"Five acts of vandalism over the last two weeks," Tuma said. "Two of those involved firearms -- firing of shotguns that put holes in equipment at Marcellus Shale drilling sites."

He cited incidents of trespassing, theft and vandalism, including shots fired at Marcellus Shale gas drilling equipment in Venango County.

"It doesn't level any accusations. It merely alerts people that there have been acts of vandalism -- two of which, I'll point out, have included firearms -- and that people should be alert for it," Tuma said.

Channel 4 Action News' Bob Mayo reported that there is debate about whether the document is justified, because it lists average Pittsburghers appearing before City Council in opposition of Marcellus Shale drilling as something that authorities need to keep an eye on.

"The document is authentic. The content is sheer rubbish," City Councilman Doug Shields said.

Shields is angry that the intelligence bulletin makes what he considers to be an unjustified leap by flagging a City Council hearing and other public hearings for citizens who are concerned about the health impact of drilling in their towns.

"Is this leaked out by design in order to intimidate people that might want to otherwise voice their opinions about their concerns about the degradation of their environment because of the shale drilling?" Shields asked.

The FBI declined to comment on its threat assessments that are quoted in the state report.

"When there's a public gathering, a public meeting, who knows what intent people might have? So it just alerts local officials of the possibility. It alerts them to be on their guard," Tuma said.

More public comments about the drilling issue will be accepted at a City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

"It is clear to me that this is designed to have a chilling effect on speech in this country, by telling people that you will be watched at public hearings," Shields said.

"What would be irresponsible would be for the Department of Homeland Security to be aware that there are acts of vandalism and yet not alert local officials -- when there's going to be a gathering of a group of people -- of a potential public safety hazard," Tuma said.

Kathryn Klaber, director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition , released the following statement Thursday:

"Our industry's top priority and most important commitment is to provide our people with the best and safest workplace that we can, and as you'd expect, we take seriously any threats that seek to compromise that environment. Of course, as the issue of responsible Marcellus development has evolved from a technical consideration to a political one, we've started to see an uptick in the volume and intensity of activism -- some of which appears to be directed at preventing our industry from safely delivering these resources to Pennsylvanians. From our point of view, as long as those activities remain generally civil and within the confines of a spirited public debate, there's absolutely no reason for concern. But to the extent they go in the other direction, and potentially devolve in a manner that undermines our ability to keep our folks safe, then we will have a problem."

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