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Well of support runs dry at drilling protest

June 07, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

It might have been the weather, but judging by the crowd at Hagerstown City Park on Monday, oil drilling above the Arctic Circle was not on many people's minds during an event to raise public awareness of the issue on one of this season's first hot, hazy days.

Safia Davis, 19, of Baltimore, said she was a little disappointed that the protest she attended wasn't seen by more people. She was one of seven activists who posed near a black, 20-foot-tall replica of an oil derrick, a criticism of efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska's northern reaches.

The only audience was a group of four media representatives, although some drivers passing by cast quizzical glances at the group.

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"I guess we really didn't know what to expect," said Davis, a paid worker for Maryland Public Interest Research Group, or MaryPIRG. She will be a sophomore industrial engineering student at Morgan State University this fall.

While the demonstrators and their colleagues in the Baltimore MaryPIRG office have been pounding streets in some Maryland cities this year, Monday was the first stop in Hagerstown.

Theresa White, an 18-year-old urban and regional planning major at Cornell University, said despite the minimal turnout, it's still good experience for those hoping to continue with work in politics.

"It just gives us good preparation of how to work a campaign," White said.

The demonstration, hosted by MaryPIRG and its national affiliate, U.S. PIRG, was tied to legislation making its way through Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives in April voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. While a U.S. Senate committee in May passed its own version of the bill, the full Senate has not yet taken action.

One item of controversy that legislators are considering is whether to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The House bill would allow such drilling, although the current version of the Senate bill would not immediately allow the possibility, according to news reports.

Samantha Yarbrough, 23, is a Washington, D.C.-based coordinator for U.S. PIRG. She said she believes that if the country allows drilling in the Arctic, that will open more opportunities for drilling around the country.

The demonstrators also called on U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., to vote against drilling in the wildlife refuge.

Bartlett two years ago voted against a bill specific to drilling on the refuge, and in April voted against the House energy bill, saying it didn't do enough to promote non-oil-based technology.

Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for Bartlett, said Monday the congressman "believes it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish" to drill in the Alaska refuge.

The demonstrators also criticized incentives for oil companies and called for stiffer vehicle gas-mileage regulations.

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