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About a dozen arrested at Maryland State House in anti-fracking demonstration

About a dozen people were arrested during an anti-fracking demonstration at the State House in Annapolis.

About a dozen activists were arrested Thursday morning for blocking an entrance to the State House during a demonstration against fracking.

Dozens of people stood in front of the State House steps, holding anti-fracking signs and singing, "We shall not be moved." Then, a smaller group moved in front of an entranceway into the ground floor of the State House and didn't move.

Lt. Rebecca Labs of the Maryland Capitol Police warned the smaller group that they needed to move or would be arrested. About a minute later, police officers who were standing by watching placed demonstrators into flex-cuffs and loaded them into a police van and an SUV.

Labs said police arrested 11 people. Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group that helped organize the protest, said 13 were arrested.

Those arrested included Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Labs said those arrested would be taken to the Annapolis Police Department to be booked. Labs said they would be charged with blocking entry to a public building during business hours.

That's a misdemeanor charge that carries a possible sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Labs said the police knew that the demonstrators intended to get arrested.

In fact, advocacy groups put out press releases and alerted the media of their plans to be arrested. Before their demonstration started, leaders gave instructions to those who wanted to be arrested and those who did not want to risk arrest.

Labs said the anti-fracking demonstrators were the first to be arrested at the state government complex in Annapolis during this year's 90-day General Assembly session. The session concludes on April 10.

"With all of the rallies and demonstrations, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best," she said.

The demonstrators were hoping the arrests would call attention to a bill that would ban fracking in the state of Maryland. Fracking is a controversial form of drilling for natural gas that has been proposed in Western Maryland.

The activists contend that fracking could be harmful to the environment and public health, while drilling advocates say it could bring jobs to an area that's in need of economic growth.

The House of Delegates already has passed the bill banning fracking, but the Senate has yet to act. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the Senate's environmental committee, has said she will not allow the fracking ban to come out of her committee unless activists can prove that there are enough votes to override a potential veto from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

If the General Assembly does not vote for a ban or moratorium on fracking, the practice is set to be allowed in Maryland later this year.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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