A state legislator has apologized for anonymously attacking constituents who support Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and calling a woman an “industry troll.”
Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny, apologized Thursday for online attacks that included saying the woman was “dumber than a box of rocks.”
The woman who was verbally abused, Janice Gibbs, is a 64-year-old resident of McDonald, a small town about 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh that has seen a boom in a natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the last five years.
“The part that hurts the most is this is my state representative,” Gibbs said. “This is not just me talking to a neighbor.”
A friend of Gibbs, Darlene Barni, said residents have “a binder full” of posts that appear to have been made by White. She said residents have been working for months to confirm suspicions that White was behind attacks that included calling women who support drilling “whores.” She said part of the shock in the community is that White, who’s 34, had so aggressively attacked older people, who are normally treated with respect in rural communities.
Gibbs said the attacks on supporters of gas drilling escalated. She said she used the online name Proud American and then attacks started coming from another person with the tag Prouder American.
“It wasn’t a normal debate. It was a bashing,” Gibbs said of the anonymous attacks on her. “It made me nervous. It kind of scared me.”
White, who recently voted for a House bill that would make online impersonation a crime in cases of harassment, said in a statement that the posts were “an error in judgment that I regret” and that he’ll seek to meet with Gibbs and a local man he acknowledged attacking anonymously. White said he didn’t use government resources while posting the comments to websites.
White also complained that the natural gas industry had made “numerous misleading and personal attacks against me in an attempt to distract people from the real issues” about gas drilling.
TV station KDKA first reported White’s link to the online attacks. KDKA also reported that the anti-drilling website GasRootsPA was registered to White but that the registration was changed an hour after a reporter began asking questions.
White’s spokesman declined to comment on specific allegations.
The Pennsylvania natural gas drilling boom began in White’s district, and over the last few years he’s been engaged in a fight with state agencies and some drilling companies over the proper extent of regulations and oversight.
The Marcellus Shale lies under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Fracking, which involves injecting large volumes of water with sand and hazardous chemicals underground to break apart rock, has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas, but it also has raised concerns about air and water pollution.
White said that he won’t stop asking tough questions about gas drilling to ensure that “we’re developing our natural resources in a responsible way that generates an economic benefit to our community but also protects the people who live and work here.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, declined to comment on White’s behavior.