NOTE: This blog was revised at 14:30 EDT on 7-22-08. See http://journals.aol.com/chemplantsec/chemical-facility-security-news/entries/2008/07/22/evolving-eco-terrorist-groups---update/2816 for an explanation of what was changed and why.
A little over a week ago there was an interesting article in the online version of the British newspaper the Independent. It described a threatened attack on a power plant in Kent. A group of environmentalists have proclaimed their intent to “to force their way into the current generating station (also coal-fired) and stop it operating – for good – on the camp's ‘day of mass action’ on 9 August.” They are ‘protesting’ the intended construction of an additional coal fired plant on the same site.
The 2008 Camp for Climate Action” is the latest civil disobedience group that could drift from protest to violent action. We have to wait and see what the group dynamic actually is on the day of their protest. Whether this makes them a terrorist group has yet to be seen. If they content themselves with a human assault on the fences of the power plant they remain protestors, illegal protestors to be sure (there is a court injunction against their announced assault).
If they attempt to use weapons, or undertake a cyber attack, or subvert insiders to damage the generating station, they cross the line to become terrorists. If they do resort to terrorist action to further their cause, they will join a growing list of eco-terrorist organizations around the world.
The Fringes of Protests
Every protest movement has a wide variety of people that form that movement. The larger the movement the more likely it is that there is a fringe group that will believe that their protest justifies the use of force. The resurgent ‘green’ movement is no exception.
The global warming debate has fueled the re-growth of the green movement. As the rhetoric increases about the consequences of the continued uses of fossil fuels and it becomes clearer that governments are not going to eliminate coal and oil fired power generation overnight, the green fringe is going to increase.
Power Plants as Chemical Facilities
Power plants have always been chemical facilities at their core. They convert chemical energy (the combustion of fuel) to electrical energy. Modern plants have increased the chemical complexity of their operations. Anhydrous ammonia may be used to scrub various pollutants from the smoke stacks of many facilities. Chlorine may be used to control the growth of biological organisms in the cooling water. A wide variety of other chemicals are used to optimize various processes within the facility.
An attack on a power plant can very easily result in chemical releases of various sorts. In targeting a coal fire power plant as a CO2 source, eco-terrorists might not even know that they may be unleashing what amounts to chemical warfare on the area surrounding the plant, the employees of the facility, and even themselves. Then again, an attack on the hazardous chemical storage might just be another way to call attention to their cause.