Environmentalists who once compared energy companies to rapists are now defending a prominent anti-pipeline activist who hid a seedy past for years that included serving nearly 10 years in prison for forcible rape.
Law enforcement officials in Texas arrested, fingerprinted and confirmed that they had in custody Pedro Rabago Gutierrez, a man who worked beside environmental groups like the Sierra Club to scuttle a Texas natural gas pipeline. He served nine years for forcible rape, seven years for forcible oral sex and got out of prison about six years later.
Gutierrez was arrested in the early 1980s, served a lengthy sentence, and was later released on parole, the California Department of Corrections said. He would later go on to flee California and wind up in Texas, where he changed his name to “Peter Hefflin” and became a leading figure in the anti-pipeline movement.
His arrest is ironic considering the innumerable past hyperbolic comments of activists comparing natural gas producers to rapists.
Anti-pipeline groups Earthworks and Food and Water Watch, for instance, have made several matter-of-fact comments suggesting energy providers promulgate a culture of rape and sexual abuse.
Environmental activist Sharon Wilson of Earthworks claimed in 2015 that a piece of legislation in Texas would allow “Texas fracking rape.”
“Fracking victims I have worked with describe it as a rape,” Wilson wrote in a blog post at the time, protesting the bill that had passed out of committee called HB 40. “It is a violation of justice and it is despoiling the land. Victims usually suffer PTSD.”
Food and Water Watch, for its part, argued that producing natural gas creates a type of anti-social unrest in the areas where fracking is most prevalent. Energy workers are under a tremendous amount of stress, the group wrote in 2013, which leads to violent results.
“We’ve found that fracking brought a host of social costs to communities where drilling has begun,” Emily Wurth, FWW’s Program Director noted at the time. “These are the real costs of fracking that are never discussed.”
Gutierrez served on the boards of various environmentalist groups and was a leading opponent of the Trans-Pecos pipeline, a 148-mile project transporting natural gas through the Big Bend region in Texas to Mexico. Activists are trying to turn the project into the next Dakota Access Pipeline.
Some environmentalist groups acted quickly to distance themselves from Gutierrez while others came to the bedraggled activist’s defense.
Lori Glover, co-founder of Defend Big Bend, told reporters that Gutierrez had already served his sentence in a cruel penal justice system. He helped found Glover’s group.
“He served his time, made a new start,” she said. “I was unaware of any of this history. Despite that, I feel very privileged to have worked with Pete Hefflin.”
Other activist groups stood their distance. Environmental justice group Society of Native Nations (SNS) seemed more willing to hold Gutierrez, who sat on the group’s board of directors, accountable for his actions.
“We’ve always been about holding people accountable,” said Frankie Orona, the group’s executive director, on whose board Gutierrez served, “and in this situation, he was definitely wrong. I am upset with him.”
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