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Activists set up 'wheel of misfortune' to oppose 'fracking'

Activists opposed to hydraulic fracturing projected their message on the side of a Fells Point building Saturday night and invited passers-by to play a so-called Wheel of Misfortune to highlight what they say are the risks of the gas drilling technique.

The demonstration, which drew about a dozen activists, was one of hundreds across the world this week as part of a "Global Frackdown." The wheel and the light show — visible for blocks — laid out the risks the activists see in the drilling method commonly known as "fracking," including air pollution, water contamination and earthquakes.

Julie Gouldener, an organizer with the environmental group Food and Water Watch, said the game-show wheel was designed to represent that fracking, which involves pumping pressurized water and chemicals into underground rock formations to release natural gas, is an "insane gamble."

"We're asking Governor [Martin] O'Malley to cease all imminent work on fracking," Gouldener said.

The state has imposed a moratorium on the technique while studies about its safety are carried out, and preliminary plans could see Maryland implement some of the strictest regulations in the country. The research is supposed to be complete next year, and O'Malley's office said Saturday that he is awaiting the findings before making a policy decision.

But Gouldener said the experiences of other states that have allowed fracking suggest that the method cannot be used without harming the environment, and she urged O'Malley to impose a permanent ban.

"The onus is on the industry first to prove they can do it safely," she said.

Industry groups contend that the method can be employed responsibly and that it provides a fuel that contributes less to climate change than coal or oil. They warn that strict regulations might scare business away.

Gouldener said she hoped the Wheel of Misfortune was a fun way to educate people.

Those who stepped up Saturday night for a spin were rewarded with candy and a brief description of what the activists say is one of the risks of fracking, bellowed out by Gouldener's husband, Jeff Dicken.

After each spin, an organizer hunched over a laptop changed the light show to match what the wheel's arrow pointed to. A projector then shone the message on a building at the end of a row of houses on Fell Street.

The projections were provided by Luminous Intervention, a Baltimore-based group that specializes in shining large-scale protest messages on buildings and other public spaces.

Denice Ochola, 30, was among those to take a spin on the wheel as activists cheered her on. She knows a bit about fracking but doesn't consider it an especially important issue.

"It's not high on my agenda," she said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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