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Southwestern CEO interrupted by protestor at NY conference

By Ernest Scheyder

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A bare-chested protester interrupted a presentation by Southwestern Energy Co Chief Executive Steven Mueller at an investment conference on Monday, an apparent outburst against the natural gas producer's plans to expand into Canada.

The protester stood toward the middle of Mueller's 20-minute presentation and removed his shirt, revealing an expletive painted in blank ink across his chest.

"No!" the protester repeatedly shouted toward Mueller and then toward the audience of about 400.

The protester interspersed the imperative with a vulgarity followed by the word "you."

The protester, who could not be identified, also accused Mueller of genocide before he was removed from the room by conference security.

Mueller seemed undaunted by the outburst, waiting several minutes for the protester to finish.

"I've had the joy of this happening to me before," Mueller said at the Independent Petroleum Association of America's OGIS conference in New York.

Southwestern, the fourth-largest natural gas producer in the United States, has faced repeated protests over its plans to expand hydraulic fracturing into New Brunswick, Canada. The company signed a deal with the province's government in 2010 to explore more than 2.5 million acres for natural gas.

Protesters from the Mi'kmaq First Nation and other groups have claimed the process, which uses large amounts of water, sand and chemicals, would damage their region.

A Canadian court last year rejected Southwestern's request for an injunction against the protesters.

It was not immediately clear if the outburst was directed at Southwestern's Canadian expansion, though the company has faced a much higher level of protests over its fracking than peers. Few U.S. energy companies frack in Canada.

Mueller, CEO since 2009, restarted his presentation with an outline of Southwestern's growth plans.

"I'm excited to talk about natural gas and say, 'yes,'" Mueller said. The statement was greeted by loud applause at the normally muted conference.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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