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Fracking Activists Could Face Felony Charges as "Ag-Gag" Laws Spread

New Pennsylvania law would criminalize animal rights and anti-fracking activists

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Photo via Flickr / Toban B / Creative Commons License)

The same "Ag-Gag" laws that make it a crime to film or document egregious abuses on industrial farms may soon be used to criminalize anti-fracking activists who seek to expose environmental harms brought on by the gas drilling industry—if a bill recently proposed in Pennsylvannia passes.

House Bill 683, sponsored by Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Cambria, would make it a felony to take photos, video or audio on private land used for "agricultural purposes," downloading or distributing any such recordings; and entering agricultural property if one plans on recording.

However, as Pittsburg's TribLive reports, the bill would go even further, in that gas frackers now commonly drilling on land that would otherwise be used for "agricultural purposes" would also be protected—meaning anyone looking to document what goes on in the ordinary day of a gas fracker, could be slapped with felony charges.

According to TribLive, Ross Pifer, director of the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center at Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law, said hydraulic fracturing operations could be protected under the new bill because gas companies often lease land from farmers.

“If you view it expansively, you'd have to view it as: Anything that takes place on that land (is protected),” Pifer said.

Melissa Troutman, outreach coordinator at Mountain Watershed Association, which investigates and records fracking activity, said the law would shield any illegal activities conducted by gas frackers from public view.

“If it passes, what's next?" said Troutman. "No documenting commercial or recreational activity? Right now it's legal to photograph industrial operations on public lands. Will that be illegal next?

Attempting to justify his sponsorship of the bill, Haluska claimed that activists only exaggerate criminal abuses inside of factory farms—meaning they should not be able to film what goes on inside. Haluska's words, however, did not serve his purpose: “They take video and say, ‘Look, this guy's dragging a cow on a chain with a tractor.' Well, there aren't too many ways of moving a cow.”

Matthew Dominguez, the Humane Society of the United States' public policy manager for farm animal protection, stated: “Animal welfare groups have exposed egregious animal cruelty through recordings and photos, and the industry's response hasn't been to clean up its act but to merely make it illegal to expose what's happening. They don't have the right to keep people in the dark. This bill would hinder our ability to expose abuses.”

The same will now go for those in the gas fracking industry.

Ag-Gag bills have either been proposed or enacted in roughly a dozen states.

Versions have been passed in Iowa, Utah and Missouri, and are under consideration in Indiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.


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