Fracking protesters chain themselves to state office building

jmurawski@newsobserver.comOctober 23, 2012 

— A small group of protesters chained themselves to revolving doors at a state office building in downtown Raleigh and blocked the entry for over an hour Monday in an act of political theater the participants termed civil disobedience.

Tamara Matheson, a veterinary technician who is active in Croatan Earth First, said activists will stage more protests if fracking is permitted to proceed in North Carolina. The Carrboro resident said fracking – a method of removing natural gas from deep rock formations – poisons drinking water and destroys the environment.

Raleigh and State Capitol police were prepared with bolt cutters to break up the protest and initially cordoned off the area as a “crime scene.” But they left the demonstrators undisturbed until the group dispersed on its own at midday without incident.

“It just fuels their fire if your arrest them,” State Capitol Police Interim Chief Antonio Asion said. “If we prolong it, it just makes it worse.”

About 435 people work in the building the seven activists barricaded on West Jones Street, headquarters of N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Some state employees watched through windows overhead as the protest unfolded and police cruisers crowded the street.

Several of the demonstrators milled about the building’s entrance holding up anti-fracking placards and displaying bed sheets with printed slogans. Some displayed a green-and-black “anarchy flag.” Most chanted anti-fracking slogans.

Two of the protesters had attached themselves to metal rails on revolving doors with U-shaped bicycle locks clamped around their necks. Others linked themselves into a human chain by locking arms through sections of painted PVC pipe.

To prevent injuries to the protesters, police made sure the revolving doors were locked and secured in place, Asion said.

The state employees were able to come in and out through side doors and rear exits. They also could come in and out through an enclosed bridge over McDowell Street connecting the agency’s office to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, agency spokesman Jamie Kritzer said.

The group trained to occupy the building’s entrance in an “action camp” over the weekend in Pittsboro that coached more than 100 people on civil disobedience, Earth First said.

The protest began about 10:40 a.m. and spontaneously disbanded about 80 minutes later. The group included members of Croatan Earth First as well as fracking opponents who said they were not affiliated with any organization.

“I told them this is not the way to do it,” Asion said after the group left. “Next time, please get a permit.”

Fracking, which refers to hydraulic fracturing, is a method for breaking up shale rock and releasing natural gas trapped inside by high-pressure water and chemicals.

The practice is illegal in North Carolina, but this past summer the state legislature cleared the way to legalize fracking. The process requires a new N.C. Mining & Energy Commission to complete three studies and write regulations to govern the energy exploration method.

“The legislature let us down,” said Brian Garcia, an Asheville electrician who traveled to Raleigh with the protesters. “The people need to have their voice heard.”

North Carolina is believed to have 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, much of it concentrated around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties. The Marcellus Shale in New York and Pennsylvania, by comparison, has about 84 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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