Drillers’ use of ‘counterinsurgency’ tactics against opponents troubles activists

    It’s no secret that drilling natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale is controversial. Now, several Pennsylvania gas drilling executives say their companies use military tactics to counter drilling opponents. Speaking at an industry conference in Houston, Texas, the men encouraged their colleagues to look to counter-insurgency techniques.

    An environmental activist attending the conference captured the talks on a hand-held recorder, and released the tape to the media.

    On tape, Anadarko Petroleum executive Matt Carmichael gave this advice: “Download the U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency here. There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.”

    Similarly, Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella is recorded telling the audience that his company has hired ex-military personnel who specialize in “psy-ops”—that’s the military slang for “psychological operations.”

    “Really all they are doing are helping folks develop local ordinances,” he said. “But really having that understanding they learned in the Army and in the Middle East has applied here in Pennsylvania.”

    Pitzarella says that quote alone can be taken out of context and that what he really advocates is community engagement.

    “And the context of that remark was having technical experts finding themselves trying to answer emotionally charged questions,” he explained. 

    Pitzarella says the technical experts are often poor communicators, and the former “psy-ops” employee knows how to remain calm in the face of intense opposition.

    But activists say the comments point to an already established pattern of trying to control the message that gas drilling is safe.

    Delaware Riverkeeper Maya von Rossum says drilling opponents bring informed opinions to the table. “And that the gas drillers would be using military tactics to try to shut these people up is really a sign of the times, of what the drillers are willing to stoop to in order to get what they want no matter the ramifications,” she said.

    A spokesman for Anadarko Petroleum released an email that says the comments do not reflect the company’s core values.

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