WASHINGTON Two dozen protesters were arrested in Washington on Monday while demonstrating against hydraulic fracturing and the U.S. gas industry's push to sell "fracked" liquefied natural gas abroad.
Protesters blocked entrances to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's headquarters for more than 90 minutes, holding signs calling the agency the "Fracking Expansion Rubberstamp Commission" and chanting "Wake up FERC."
Some workers were forced to step over the protesters to access the government building's main entrance. Police eventually began directing FERC employees around the protesters to an alternate doorway.
The sit-in, organized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, also left confused motorists shut out of the driveway adjacent to FERC.
The climate activist group is one of several across the country that have led protests against what it terms "the toxic impacts of fracking" - the oil and gas drilling technique that has helped the United States become the top natural gas producer in the world and opened the door to substantial U.S. gas exports.
Environmentalists have raised concerns that the use of fracking has fouled drinking water, polluted the air and contributed to global warming.
Monday's demonstration followed a larger march on FERC on Sunday against LNG exports and the proposed construction of an LNG export terminal and gas liquefaction plant near a densely populated residential area in Maryland.
Activists at the FERC sit-in said they hoped their protests would help the issue gain more prominence.
"We're trying to make this a higher priority for everyone, so everyone will up their action and their involvement with the issue," said Cathy Strickler, a retired high school counselor from Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Green groups have called on FERC to not issue any more permits authorizing the construction of LNG export plants until a thorough assessment of potential climate change impacts is completed.
FERC declined to comment on Monday's protest.
Police handcuffed and briefly detained 24 of the more than 30 protesters at the FERC building, before releasing them with citations for blocking a public passageway.
Dominion Resources Inc, currently seeking a FERC permit for its planned Cove Point LNG export project in Maryland, said the protesters were "misrepresenting" facts.
While some natural gas delivered to Cove Point will come from shale formations, the company said Cove Point "does not depend upon or encourage the practice of hydraulic fracturing."
The first U.S. LNG exports to countries with which Washington does not have free trade agreements are expected to begin next year. FERC is considering more than a dozen applications to build plants to export the fuel to markets in Asia and Europe.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Tom Brown)