ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Thirteen people were arrested in Annapolis Thursday, according to Capitol Police, after a group of faith leaders and Maryland residents gathered in front of the State House, purposely blocking the entrance to protest fracking in the state.
“The activists appealed to the Senate leadership, including Senate President Mike Miller, to lead the way in passing a bill for a statewide fracking ban,” according to a statement Thursday from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Food and Water Watch.
There are two Senate bills on fracking that are awaiting votes in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.
One of those Senate bills would prohibit a person from engaging in the hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — of a well for the exploration or production of oil or natural gas in the state, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis.
That bill has matching legislation cross-filed in the House of Delegates. It was passed in that chamber Friday, with a 97-40 vote.
A second Senate bill, which has bipartisan support, calls for a two-year moratorium on fracking to allow local jurisdictions to decide whether to authorize hydraulic fracturing there, according to its state fiscal analysis.
The group gathered on Lawyers’ Mall in front of the State House Thursday morning held signs that showed their dissent for fracking and listened to leaders speak on behalf of the group.
Gary Gillespi, a Baltimore resident who was arrested Thursday, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that was his plan. “I’m here to get arrested,” Gillespi said before the protest began. “I believe it can’t be business as usual. … There needs to be an emphasis of long-term jobs, not short-term jobs that are destructive.”
Gillespi made a point to say this would be his first big protest to kick off his retirement.
As Miller arrived, before the start of the Senate session, the group began chanting, “ban fracking now.”
Miller, who co-sponsored this year’s moratorium-and-referenda legislation, said he doesn’t respond well to people jumping up and down, shouting and holding up signs.
“I react just the opposite way,” Miller said. Miller said he would support whatever the committee comes up with, but he would prefer a lengthy moratorium. “Let the citizens vote on the issue,” Miller said Thursday after session. “That’s what democracy is all about.”
Senators Paul Pinksy, D-Prince George’s, and Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, interrupted the gathering to commend them for protesting.
Pinsky directly addressed the crowd, saying activism and taking a stand is crucial, and sometimes that means getting arrested. Pinksy said he regretted not being able to join them, but wished them well. “Dare to struggle, dare to live,” Pinsky said before entering the State House.
“I’m here today as a Presbyterian Sunday school teacher,” Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, told the group before being arrested.
Tidwell said he teaches his middle school students every week to “love God with all your might and all your heart and to love thy neighbor as yourself.” He said to allow fracking in the state is contrary to that sermon.
Protesters cited environmental effects and health concerns in their opposition.
The current state moratorium on fracking is expected to expire this October.
Proponents argue the industry would be a financial boon to the state, particularly Western Maryland, where fracking would likely occur.
Jill Clark-Gollub, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, said she was there to support faith leaders and call for the Senate to prohibit fracking in the state over a two-year moratorium. “It’s ridiculous,” Clark-Gollub said. “We need to have a complete ban. … The House just passed the bill and there is clearly support.”
The group migrated to the steps of the State House singing lyrics from the song “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Just before 10 a.m., 13 people from the group moved to the side entrance of the building to block the senators entering.
A police officer approached the group after many senators were forced to walk around the protesters, and warned those blocking the walkway they would be arrested in two minutes for trespassing. They were subsequently arrested.