NC chemical plant blocked in anti-fracking protest

Jul. 08, 2013 @ 02:02 PM

Dozens of environmental activists blocked a chemical plant Monday to protest against the company's sale of products used in the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Between six and 10 police officers and sheriff's deputies were watching but taking no action against the protesters at the Momentive resin plant in Morganton, about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte, Morganton Public Safety Chief Mark Tolbert said.

"The company has indicated that they are OK with the present state of things," Tolbert said about three hours after wooden barriers were erected at each of the plant's two gates before 8 a.m. "It is private property, so it is their call to make with regard to any actions."

The blockade started after the plant's employees had arrived for work, and production was able to continue during the protest. However, a tanker truck was stopped from leaving to deliver a shipment, Tolbert said.

Protesters erected the pair of three-legged, 20-foot-tall wooden structures at the plant gates. Each has a protester stationed on top, and their safety could be imperiled if they were forcibly removed or the tripod toppled, said Croatan Earth First! spokeswoman Maria Rowan, 44, of Carrboro. As many as 100 other people were lying down in the entrance road, she said.

The group aims to stop the spread of fracking to North Carolina, where lawmakers have created a commission to establish rules that would allow the process to be used to extract gas from underground rock, Rowan said in a telephone interview from the scene.

Police would likely be asked to clear the plant entrances when plant workers completed their shifts, Tolbert said, but he didn't know when that was scheduled.

Columbus, Ohio-based Momentive Specialty Chemicals Inc. was working with law officers "to ensure the safety of all parties," spokesman John Kompa said in an emailed statement.

"MSC is committed to providing innovative, safe and effective solutions designed to help increase the efficiency of oil and gas operations," Kompa said. "Hydraulic fracturing has been used by the oil and gas industry since the 1940s and has become a key element of oil and natural gas extraction worldwide. We believe modern hydraulic fracturing is a safe, sophisticated, highly engineered and controlled procedure."

Momentive Specialty Chemicals is owned by parent company Momentive Performance Materials Holdings LLC, which was formed in 2010 with the combination of Momentive Performance Materials Inc. and Hexion Specialty Chemicals Inc. The parent company is controlled by Apollo Global Management LLC, which is known for buying troubled brands and later selling them for a profit. Apollo's investments include fast-food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's.