The apology came hours after state representative Jesse White (D-Washington) denied using such tactics when he was questioned by a reporter from Pittsburgh TV station KDKA. In fact, White initially called the accusations a personal attack against him by "the propaganda wing of the natural gas industry" when a KDKA camera crew caught up with him.
Janice Gibbs- a Washington County grandmother who supported natural gas drilling- began posting her pro-drilling views online under the moniker Proud American. Almost immediately after posting her comments, White apparently revealed her identity and accused her of being a paid operative of natural gas companies [despite the fact that Gibbs has no lease on her land- NANESB!] . Other commenters called Gibbs "dumber than a box of rocks", an "uneducated yinzer" and "an embarrassment to the community"- she suspected that Rep White was behind a number of those comments himself, but didn't have any proof until somebody began posting anti-fracking comments under her name on the natural gas industry's Energy In Depth website.
The organization traced the comments from "Janice Gibbs" and "Janet Gibson" to a computer using Rep White's IP address. The domain name for an anti-fracking website called 'GasRoots PA' that routinely lauds White and refers to fracking supporters as 'whores' was also registered under White's name. White refused to comment when he was confronted with both facts by a KDKA reporter.
But while White stonewalled, Gibbs freely spoke.Roessler and Gibbs aren't the only constituents who were reportedly harassed online by White. A pro-dilling township supervisor in Cecil, PA named Elizabeth Cowden said that somebody has been posting comments online using a similar name to make it appear as though she was calling herself a liar. Far from being a political opponent of White, Cowden said that she had donated regularly to White in the past but had stopped in the two years.
“I kind of feel violated,” Gibbs said. “Yep, I feel violated that an elected official would go this far.”
White told Sheehan he has no connection to an anti-drilling website called GasRootsPA.com, which chastises drilling supporters as “whores” and regularly praises White.
However, when Sheehan searched the domain name he found that it also was registered in White’s name.
Within an hour after the interview, GasRootsPA was re-registered under another name — Tony Stewart — another fictitious person.
But, the intrigue goes even deeper.
In the past two years, Internet sites have been littered with postings from people named Victoria Adams, Frank Reynolds, Cindy McPherson and others attacking pro-drilling advocates.
Sheehan couldn’t find any evidence that these people actually exist, but their language is strikingly similar to White’s own Facebook postings where he is fond of calling opponents “trolls.”
Cindy McPherson calls pro-gas supporters: “nameless trolls.” Victoria Adams calls another a “gas industry troll” and Frank Reynolds calls yet another an “energy industry troll.”
Farmer Don Roessler gets royalties from Marcellus Shale drilling. He suspects White — using the handle “Prouder American” — has told people to boycott his crops and has called him names too.
“He’s gone on insulting me, insulting my intelligence,” Roessler said.
Two years ago, a Washington County jury also ruled that White's online comments- which were made under his own name- libeled and defamed Robinson Township Committee member named Raymond Bish- a fellow Democrat. White is also an attorney and fellow lawyer Charles Kurowski said the attacks on Bish were despicable and unprovoked.
The Marcellus Shale formation stretches form upstate New York to southwestern Virginia and contains massive reserves of natural gas that remain largely untapped. A process known as hydraulic fracture drilling- or hydrofracking- has been used to drill for gas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, the natural gas industry faces well-financed and well-publicized opposition from environmentalists and New York City-based entertainers opposed to the fracking process, claiming it will irreversibly foul local groundwater- despite hydrofracking having been used elsewhere without such dire effects.
Most of the drilling in the Marcellus Shale is taking place in Pennsylvania so far, while New York State has placed an ongoing moratorium on hydrofracking.