Photo by Thomas Meyer, via Food and Water Watch Maryland

About a dozen faith leaders and environmentalists were arrested on Thursday morning in Annapolis at a demonstration against allowing fracking in Maryland.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the State House today to push Senate leadership to bring a a proposal to permanently ban natural gas drilling in Maryland to a full vote. The House of Delegates has already passed such a bill proposed by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo of Montgomery County. The Senate version of the bill, proposed by Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin, remains stuck in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.

During the protest today, about a dozen people stepped forward and blocked a door to the State House. After refusing to move, they were arrested and charged with blocking an entrance to a public building.

A spokesman for Capitol Police Department said on a phone call that 11 people were arrested, though a spokeswoman for Food and Water Watch Maryland, which helped to organized this morning’s protest and announced the planned sit-in before it happened, said there were 13 in all.

Among them, she said, were: Chesapeake Climate Action Network director Mike Tidwell; Brooke Harper, the network’s Maryland outreach coordinator; Ann Bristow, a member of former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission; and the Rev. Julie Wilson, of the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Fracking is one of the key issues to come before the state legislature this session. Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has proposed regulatory changes that would allow companies to begin drilling in western Maryland atop the Marcellus Shale formation once the current drilling moratorium expires in October 2017. While Hogan and others have argued fracking will create a new source of jobs and revenue stream for the state, faith leaders and environmentalists have urged lawmakers to ban the practice outright, citing studies that show fracking’s public health risks and environmental damage.

If legislators don’t approve any measure or if Gov. Hogan doesn’t sign it in the next 25 days — the 2017 session ends on April 10 — Maryland will be open for drilling on Oct. 1.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chair of the committee where the Senate bill now sits, has proposed her own measure that would extend the current moratorium to 2019 and allow jurisdictions to vote via referenda to allow drilling. The committee has held hearings on both her proposal and Sen. Zirkin’s, though Conway has not called for a vote on either.

A staffer at Conway’s office said she wasn’t available to speak this afternoon.

The dozen or so arrestees will be released this evening between 5 and 6 p.m., according to the spokeswoman from Food and Water Watch Maryland.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...