October 2016 – Coordinated attacks on five pipelines in four states accessed emergency shut-off valves and stopped the flow of 15% of daily American oil supply.  

February 2017 – Gunman opened fire on a natural gas pipeline in Florida.  He was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

February 2017 – Drive-by shooting of a pipeline company office in Minnesota, shattering its front windows.

Pipeline damage

These are just a few examples of a growing list of attacks on energy infrastructure.  While eco-terrorists are nothing new, a variety of factors are increasing the risk of energy terrorism, including:

  • Media Fragmentation. Technology has fragmented how Americans receive their news. People sharing similar views have coalesced around providers catering to their political mindset. Studies show that this fragmentation of news has contributed to polarization:

The growing plurality of news sources as well as the increasing access to cable television made the greatest contribution to political polarization. Two phenomena, or a combination of the two, are responsible: Individuals seek out “self-reinforcing viewpoints rather than [to] be exposed to a common ‘nightly news’ broadcast” — this is sometimes called siloing. Also, individuals are jettisoning news programming for entertainment, “thereby reducing incidental or by-product learning about politics.”  The decreasing exposure to alternative views and the increasing buttressing of one’s own views has combined to create less sympathy for others’ views and less of an ability to understand others’ views. “This may be reinforced by a tendency for political differences to be decreasingly addressed through genuine debate and increasingly replaced with media coverage of political vilification or grandstanding.” (David Trilling, Polarization in America)

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  • Movement Appeal. Climate change has an appeal not unlike religious extremism.  It’s a vehicle for people to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  As Vice President Gore stated, “The climate movement should be seen in the context of the great moral causes . . . It was wrong to allow slavery to continue, it was wrong to deny women the right to vote, it was wrong to discriminate on the basis of skin color” (The Guardian, “Al Gore: battle against climate change is like fight against slavery”).  This also is how energy terrorists justify their violence.  For example, a spokesperson for the Environmental Liberation Front has argued that “[i]f we are vandals, so were those who destroyed forever the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz” and “[w]e encourage others to find a local Earth raper and make them pay for the damages they are inflicting on our communities and humanity’s chance of survival.”
  • Accessibility.  At least half the world’s population is online.  That means there are ~3.5 billion people that activists can reach.  Only a small percentage of the populace is unstable, but their absolute numbers are growing—because the planet is growing by 83 million people a year.  So there are more unstable people, and the Internet facilitates their recruitment.
  • Weaker Mediating Institutions. People used to rely more on the support of their extended families and local institutions such as churches, synagogues, and social clubs.  Workplaces were themselves communities, where people looked after each other and jobs lasted a lifetime.  All of these served as mediating institutions.  Now, unstable people who are drawn to a cause can join others on the Internet who reinforce their views—rather than moderate them.
  • Republican Victory. Over the last eight years, climate activists were able to advance their agenda through the Obama administration’s executive orders and regulations.  With President Trump’s election, much of their political gains are being reversed.

Energy companies have been taking steps to protect their people and assets from energy terrorism.  One pipeline security contractor is TigerSwan, which was “founded in 2007 by retired members of the United States DELTA FORCE whose extensive combat leadership; problem solving; experience in cross-functional, inter-agency and multicultural environments; and entrepreneurial spirit created a revolutionary company that allows you to operate safely in today’s global environment” (TigerSwan web page).

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TigerSwan in Action

TigerSwan worked on the Dakota Access Pipeline, providing aerial photography and video, infiltrating activist groups, and providing evidence such as photographs and license plates to law enforcement officials.  The owner of Dakota Access defended these tactics: “Due to the level of threats that were made against the company and its employees and the illegal activity that was taking place by the opposition, we felt this was necessary to protect our employees and the surrounding communities, which were our top priorities.”

Legislatures also are responding.  Last month, Oklahoma’s governor signed a new law making it a felony to trespass on energy infrastructure.  Individuals who tamper with facilities are subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years, and groups that conspire to violate the law face fines of up to $1 million.

Right on time for the hottest week of summer is the July 28th release of Vice President Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power:

The film opens with images of the Greenland ice sheets melting: tumultuous mountains of white caving in on themselves, and long stretches of scrubby brownish-green terrain where, as recently as the 1980s, there was only ice. Gore tours these areas, and updates other catastrophic patterns around the globe, which are like something out of a disaster movie or a rite of biblical reckoning: rainstorms that no longer resemble the storms of the past, because they enter an atmosphere so much more saturated that the violent downpours are nicknamed “rain bombs”; people in India with their shoes stuck to melting streets; and the ongoing surges of flooding in cities like Miami that are the byproduct of all that Arctic meltdown — the water, after all, has to go somewhere.  (Variety)

Unfortunately, the temperatures of energy extremists seem to be rising just as fast as those in Al Gore’s films.

About the Gaille Energy Blog.  The Gaille Energy Blog discusses issues in the field of energy law, with weekly posts at http://www.gaillelaw.com.  Scott Gaille is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, an Adjunct Professor in Management at Rice University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of two books on energy law (Shale Energy Development and International Energy Development).

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