West Virginia Senate Bill 9 will make it illegal to use drones to gather “evidence or information” against an industrial facility
Drones became an important tool in distributing information to the public in Standing Rock
Senate Bill 9 could open the door to prohibiting drones for gathering information for the public across the country
The “Drone Bill” comes as several companies are looking to lay gas pipelines in West Virginia
Throughout the stand at Standing Rock, drones became one of the most important tools to keep the public informed on what was happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Once police barricades prevented anyone from being able to see the main area of interest, drones were the only way to see if the company was honoring the requests to halt construction, or if they continued to work. Countless times, drones were used to document human rights violations from law enforcement in the area.
Drone pilots in Standing Rock faced several repercussions, including having their drones shot down, taken, and even arrest by since the area was deemed to be a “No Fly Zone.”
Many argued that the No Fly Zone was nothing more than a suppression of information, as Dakota Access maintained their rights to fly, despite No Fly Zones normally only allowing law enforcement to fly in the area. According to the FAA, if you were assisting law enforcement you were given permission to fly in the area.
Senate Bill 9
Now West Virginia looks to intensify the persecution of drone pilots with Senate Bill 9, also known as the “drone bill.” In specific, SB 9 states that drones cannot be used for “gathering evidence or information” against an industrial facility. So what is an industrial facility?
According to WV SB 9, an industrial facility is defined as a “coal mine, coal preparation plant, natural gas processing, fractionation, stabilization and compressor station facilities, petroleum and aluminum refineries, industrial manufacturing facilities, chemical manufacturing facilities, electric generation facilities and public utilities, and any entity regulated by the Public Service Commission.”
Aside from this clear attempt to protect oil, gas, fracking, and coal industries, there are no other necessary changes in West Virginia drone laws. However, it appears that privacy, like many other draconian bills before, is leading the campaign for SB 9.
The new law would make it a misdemeanor to film or take images of someone without permissions, which doubles over to protect the identities of those involved in unwanted pipelines that are now popping up all over the country. But if keeping people’s privacy is the main concern, what is the need of also protecting these resource companies that often times receive public scrutiny?
Rover Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline
The bill against drones in West Virginia come as gas companies are battling to lay pipeline in the area. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is raising concerns from the community due to it crossing approximately 450 bodies of water.
Another pipeline in the area is the $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline. The company behind Rover is none other than Energy Transfer Partners, the same company responsible for heading up the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, Rover Pipeline began filing eminent domain claims against those not willing to cooperate with the company.
The Mountain Valley and Rover Pipelines are just two of several looking to tear through the area of West Virginia. With everything that ETP just went through with Dakota Access, it is no surprise that the area of their next pipeline is now asking for drones to be banned, but surely that is just a coincidence.
The Kanawha Forest Coalition made a post to their Facebook page requesting for people to contact the West Virginia Senate to demand that they stop SB 9. The post reads as follows.
URGENT: The WV Senate has proposed a bill that makes it ILLEGAL to use a UAV (drone) to take aerial photos and videos of coal mines and gas infrastructure. HELP STOP THIS CENSORSHIP. Senate Bill 9 is up for a vote as soon as TOMORROW (Wednesday). Please call and/or email the WV Senate NOW and tell them to “Amend the “Drone Bill”, Protect our Right to Know!
***copy and paste the senate email addresses at the end of this post***
Here’s an example comment you can use as is, or adapt (be sure to include the last paragraph explaining exactly what needs to amended)
I’m writing today in regards to Senate Bill 9.
§29-2B-5(a) would prohibit UAV operators from photographing or recording any so-called “designated industrial facility”
The prohibition on the taking of aerial photographs and/or videos of “designated industrial facilities” such as coal mines, is extremely restrictive to UAV pilots, has no bearing on the personal privacy rights this bill is meant to address, and is unnecessarily restrictive of personal constitutional liberties.
The ability of the public to use available and appropriate technology to photograph and gather information about the industrial facilities near our homes and communities in order to better protect our personal property and public lands, and ensure the safety of our families and property is critically important.
I urge you to REJECT SB9 unless the proposed bill is AMENDED to remove the unnecessary and burdensome prohibition on “conduct[ing] surveillance of, gather[ing] evidence and information about, or photographically or electronically record[ing]” a designated industrial facility.”
Senate email addresses (copy and paste into your email)
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