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Dakota Access-style policing moves to Pennsylvania's Mariner East 2 Pipeline

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline breaks ground in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County on Feb. 20, 2017. Photo: Emily Cohen/State Impact Pennsylvania
Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, Alice Speri, The Intercept_, Jun 27 2017 - 10:30

After months of employing military-style counterinsurgency tactics to subvert opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota, the private security firm TigerSwan is monitoring resistance to another project — the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Like DAPL, Mariner East 2 is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline is slated to run for 350 miles, transporting ethane, butane, and propane through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to a hub near Philadelphia for shipment to both domestic and international markets. Internal TigerSwan documents reviewed by The Intercept suggest the company has had a presence in Pennsylvania since at least April.

On April 1, the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which runs parallel to the proposed path of ME2, spilled 20 barrels of ethane and propane near Morgantown, Pennsylvania. On the day of the incident, an email provided to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor shows the firm was watching social media for signs the spill would become a rallying point for pipeline opponents.

“At this time the incident has NOT gained any public interest,” a TigerSwan operative wrote in the email.

TigerSwan founder James Reese replied, “We nees [sic] to monitor social media for blow baxk [sic] on the leak.”

The company had been monitoring Dakota Access opponents’ social media for months and analyzing press coverage related to that pipeline fight, according to more than 100 internal situation reports leaked to The Intercept. The documents routinely referenced counterinformation efforts to produce and distribute propaganda favorable to the pipeline.

TigerSwan apparently carried at least some of these practices to Pennsylvania. It would be weeks before the public learned of the leak of highly explosive natural gas liquids. According to a source with direct knowledge of TigerSwan’s operation, making sure nobody found out about the incident was part of TigerSwan’s mission on the project. Nearby residents were kept in the dark until April 20, when Sunoco, which recently completed a merger with Energy Transfer Partners, confirmed to a local media outlet that the leak had occurred.

As Dakota Access opponents moved to new pipeline fights across the country, other repressive tactics deployed against the NoDAPL movement migrated too. TigerSwan’s entry into the ME2 struggle comes as industry-supported lawmakers in Pennsylvania, a center of the nation’s fracking boom, are advancing legislative efforts to increase fines and charges associated with anti-pipeline direct action protests.

The TigerSwan situation reports show that as early as February, as state officials prepared to evacuate the first pipeline resistance camp in North Dakota, the security firm was monitoring the potential for DAPL opposition to spill over into grassroots struggles against other pipeline projects, including ME2 and Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover pipeline in Ohio. “Recently, Illinois activists have begun to shift their focus in earnest from anti-DAPL to anti-pipeline,” a situation report dated February 21 reads. “They have started sharing information on multiple pipeline projects across the country. There has not yet been any mention of Mariner East or Rover, but there is an active effort to continue their momentum in fighting pipeline construction and operation.”

Public records also show an increased interest by the company in areas through which other Energy Transfer Partners projects would pass.

Last November, TigerSwan obtained business licenses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the three states in the path of ME2. On June 1, TigerSwan also obtained a business license to operate in Louisiana, where Energy Transfer Partners is building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which would connect to the Dakota Access Pipeline system and carry Bakken shale oil to Gulf Coast export terminals.

At a February hearing held by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, TigerSwan advisory board chair James “Spider” Marks, a retired U.S. Army major general, spoke in favor of building the pipeline — without revealing his association with TigerSwan. He also published an op-ed in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser newspaper decrying the “anti-energy agitators” who oppose the project.

“No Louisianan wants to live under the conditions that those unsuspecting North Dakota residents were subject to — with protesters trespassing, interrupting the local flow of traffic, and generally injecting elements of fear and the unknown into their daily lives,” Marks wrote. “A timely approval process of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, however, would prevent the possibility of such conditions arising in this state.”

In May, Marks wrote another opinion piece that failed to disclose his TigerSwan affiliation, this time for the Pennsylvania news site PennLive, warning readers there to “be wary of professional pipeline protesters” who turned Standing Rock into a scene of “hapless violence and bloodshed.”

“Many of the same professional agitators who fomented chaos in North Dakota are turning their efforts to the Mariner East II Pipeline in Pennsylvania,” Marks wrote. “These orchestrators make no qualms about their intent to turn Camp White Pine — a small but growing protest area in Huntingdon County — into the next national showdown.”

Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment, writing in an email to The Intercept that it does not “discuss details of our security initiatives, which are designed to ensure the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work.” In an email sent to The Intercept from a TigerSwan account, an unnamed representative of the firm declined to answer questions about TigerSwan’s work on ME2, but commented on its social media monitoring efforts. “Of course we monitor social media during any type of situation,” the person wrote. “With the advent of so many bots on twitter and those organizations who perpetuate defamatory and outrageous slander against not only American companies but local, state and national law enforcement on the internet, we wouldn’t be doing our job unless we did.” Marks did not respond to a request for comment. Last week, TigerSwan retweeted a comment characterizing his PennLive piece as a “TigerSwan op-ed.”

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