July 6, 2016
If Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles is doing his job, he is probably meeting with Gov. Larry Hogan this week to deliver the message: “Mr. Governor, we have a problem.”
The issue papers outlining how the Hogan administration would welcome frackers to our state have been met with a resounding “NO.”
And last night, in front of an exuberant and even tearful room of residents, the Town Council of Friendsville in Garrett County voted 5-1 to ban fracking, following in the footsteps of Mountain Lake Park, which said no to fracking in 2011. Both towns lie over the Marcellus Shale gas basin. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, on top of the Taylorsville and Culpeper shale basins, also have put in place local bans.
t h e o u t c r y
During three public meetings — in Cumberland, Baltimore and McHenry — over two weeks, MDE Secretary Grumbles and his staff got an earful of reasoned testimony and impassioned pleas from hundreds of people, including property owners, realtors and other business owners, health professionals, activists, people who had rejected leasing their land and those who regretted leasing their land, retirees and 20-somethings. They even heard an anti-fracking song from a guitar-strumming George Polimenakos, an adventure sports guide in Garrett County’s thriving tourism industry.
At the Baltimore hearing, a landowner and two gas workers from fracked Pennsylvania issued dire warnings. Before the meeting in McHenry at Garrett College, opponents brought a dog and pony (in truth, a miniature horse) to illustrate exactly what they thought of MDE’s attempt to bamboozle the public with its PowerPoint and talking points.
During the MDE meeting at Garrett College in McHenry, the publisher of the local weekly newspaper, Don Sincell, seethed at the agency and elected officials, listing the many harms from fracking — from destroyed roads, contaminated streams and water wells, air pollution, trucks “barreling down” rural roads, unsightly well pads, noise and light pollution, and health hazards for local residents, particularly children and pregnant women; to “plummeting property values” and “the probable loss of Garrett County’s more than 100-year-old recognition as a ‘destination point.’ ”
Only a ban could prevent these threats, Sincell said, adding: “But I can’t even begin to put into words the level of disappointment I have in our own elected officials, who in my opinion are selling us out, and that includes our own senator [George Edwards], especially our own delegate [Wendell Beitzel], and yes, even our fence-riding Garrett County commissioners, all of whom took an oath to keep their constituents safe. I am truly furious about it, and it makes me sick at heart.”
t h e i s s u e p a p e r s
The issue papers examine four areas from the January 2015 regulations, which were proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and then put on hold by Governor Hogan. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) plans to tighten a single regulation — the agency would require a fourth layer of casing around the drill, with all layers of casing and cement running to the surface — and then gut many of the already inadequate O’Malley proposals.
- MDE would reduce or even eliminate some setbacks so they are “more in line with the requirements of surrounding states,” an unnerving pledge given the ongoing disaster in Pennsylvania — the epicenter of what can only be called a fracking rebellion — and in West Virginia. Fracking could be closer to private drinking water wells, 1,000 feet instead of 2,000 feet. The state would eliminate all automatic setbacks from cultural or historical sites, parks, trails, wildlife management areas, wild and scenic rivers, and scenic byways. From most wetlands, the setback would be 25 feet. “I can spit farther than 25 feet,” said Frostburg resident Gabe Echeverri at the McHenry meeting. If not “feasible,” some setbacks would be expendable, MDE says — all in the name of “enhanced flexibility” and “balance,” as if we were taking a yoga class. They are designed for “simplification” and “customer service,” but the only customer in mind is the fracking industry.
- MDE would also eliminate requirements for air monitoring because it is content to use readings from the MDE station at the Frostburg Dam and the mobile National Energy Technology Laboratory equipment. “That’s the same as monitoring Frederick County from the center of Ravens Stadium,” Mary Helen Spear complained at the Garrett College meeting. The proposal conveniently disregards research showing that even existing monitoring fails to detect spikes in emissions that could account for residents’ complaints about nose bleeds, nausea, abdominal pain, and breathing difficulties near fracking operations.
- MDE would also reduce the number of steps needed to get permits to frack under Comprehensive Development Plans (CDPs), including taking the Department of Natural Resources out of the loop. MDE “should explain why ANY relaxations are sufficiently protective,” said Brigid Kenney, an adviser to Governor O’Malley’s 15-member Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative who retired from MDE as Governor Hogan was taking office. The shale advisory commission had concluded that the risks could be managed, she said, only if all the conditions were met. In particular, she said, the MDE proposals “render [the CDP] a toothless tiger.”
s o m a n y p r o b l e m s i g n o r e d
Yet MDE’s issue papers are flawed even at their premise, namely that the shale advisory commission concluded in 2014, after three years of work, that “the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.” The commission reached no such conclusion. It was sharply divided, as were the residents of this state. However, the most recent poll, in 2015, shows opposition increasing, with about two-thirds of those surveyed favoring a long-term moratorium or outright ban.
And improving casings, the linchpin upon which MDE walks back even a semblance of protection, can’t resolve the inherent problem of leaking wells.
Speaking in McHenry, Rob Smith, a homebuilder and retired building inspector, took aim at the well-casing proposal. He said every homeowner asks him for a guarantee that the concrete slab won’t crack. “The only thing I can guarantee is that your concrete slab WILL crack,” he said. “The only thing concrete is good for is cracking.”
Offering a more scientific assessment is Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, a Cornell engineering professor, president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, and former oil and gas industry insider. Asked about the well-casing proposal, he wrote in an email that while that plan is an improvement over the 2015 proposal, “I saw nothing in the 2015 proposal, or in this suggested revision, that will address the inevitability of a well found to be leaking, despite all the layers of casing and cement. It will happen, because designs on paper can never be executed as planned every time, and forever. This is the reality of constructing and operating a well, any well. The PA DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] can confirm that even with their tough construction regs, they are still observing leaking wells.”
Still unanswered, Ingraffea said, is “What will be required of the operator when all the post construction testing shows a leaking well? What methods will be used in the years after construction, but during production, to determine if a well is leaking? What methods will be used in the years after production, and after ‘plugging’, to determine if a well is leaking? How far will the regulator go in forcing the operator to mitigate the leak? What happens if the leak is not fixable? When/how will owners of nearby (2500ft?) water wells be notified of a potential impact to their supplies? All these questions are always left unanswered by regs everywhere, and become the sources of consternation, frustration, vague actions, delays, lawsuits….”
Not to mention the blossoming on yards of replacement water supplies known as water buffaloes, communities relying on church donations for water for years, the difficulty getting home insurance, and the decline in property values.
In addition, MDE has ignored all the research since the O’Malley proposal that shows clearly the folly of fracking. In 2015, 226 studies were published, with most showing harm from fracking. (A summary of studies and reports through the first six months of 2015 is here.)
In October 2015, Johns Hopkins research found that proximity to wells is associated with premature births. Brian Schwartz, MD, the study leader and a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, said in a press release: “The growth in the fracking industry has gotten way out ahead of our ability to assess what the environmental and, just as importantly, public health impacts are. More than 8,000 unconventional gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania alone and we’re allowing this while knowing almost nothing about what it can do to health. Our research adds evidence to the very few studies that have been done in showing adverse health outcomes associated with the fracking industry.”
Ann Bristow, PhD, a member of the shale advisory commission, noted that health officials warn women to stay away from countries where they could be infected with the Zika virus — to avoid risk of devastating birth defects. In fracked Pennsylvania, Bristow said at the McHenry hearing, “women are leaving their homes to carry out their pregnancies elsewhere – if they can afford it. If we frack, we need to advise women to get the hell out of here.”
MDE employees, she said, have an “ethical and moral responsibility” to acknowledge that no evidence shows an additional well casing would provide any protection. “All your relaxings are based on that one thing that has no empirical support,” Bristow said. Fracking “will not be regulated in Maryland because, by God, we are going to ban it.”
A handful of fracking proponents spoke at the McHenry meeting, such as Bob Paye, an attorney with the Energy and Property Rights Coalition, who characterized opponents as “people who listen to fear-mongering.” Billy Bishoff of the Garrett County Farm Bureau applauded MDE’s proposals while calling for still weaker setbacks. Garrett resident Shawn Bender, a member of the shale advisory commission who works in the oil and gas industry, questioned MDE’s putting any county watersheds off limits from fracking. Under the O’Malley and Hogan MDE proposals, fracking would be prohibited in the Broadford Lake, Piney, and Savage Reservoir watersheds. While opponents seized on that restriction to argue that what’s unsafe for those watersheds is unsafe for rest of the county and state, Bender turned that logic upside down — agreeing that if particular watersheds need protection, that would suggest that fracking was unsafe, but then concluding that fracking should therefore be allowed everywhere.
MDE has also ignored the ever louder signals of climate gone haywire – the increase in forest fires, droughts, floods, storms, species extinction — as well as the commitment of nations to keep warming preferably below 1.5 degrees C. That can’t be achieved by doubling down on yet another fossil fuel.
All this in the name of jobs is the final insult. The blame for the loss of jobs lies with the fossil fuel giants such as Exxon that knew but suppressed the science about climate change. If we had started this transition in the 1970s, the pain – in jobs lost and our health in jeopardy would not be so great now.
Those dangerous fracking jobs only tie us to the past. As Dana Shimrock, retired librarian in Garrett County, said at the McHenry meeting: “Young people in the county….are not looking for jobs in the fracking industry. They are much more progressive. They have great ideas. Let’s start listening to them. “
Email your comments to email@example.com through July 18.
— by elisabeth hoffman
April 15, 2016
The Clinton Foundation is being judged by the company – and the money — it keeps. In this case, the company is ExxonMobil. The money amounts to at least $1 million. Yesterday, a coalition of environmental, health and faith leaders called on Bill, Hillary and Chelsea’s family philanthropy to give back the donations it has received from the fossil fuel giant — because #ExxonKnew.
ExxonMobil “has been fighting efforts to address the climate crisis for over 25 years,” an open letter to the Clintons said. “This includes spending $30 million to support groups whose basic purpose is to encourage doubt and denial about the facts of climate change. These ExxonMobil-funded groups question whether climate change is happening at all or they question the role of human activity as the primary cause.”
The coalition also set up a website, www.clintonsdivest.org
“ExxonMobil, your profits come drenched in our suffering,” said Lise Van Susteren, convener of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and a signer of the letter. At a news conference announcing the letter, she said that as a psychiatrist and former CIA profiler, she sees the threats to national security and a “growing sense of dread” from the physical and psychological damage caused by climate change.
“We have this to say to ExxonMobil: You are not donors, you are liars,” she said. “Your own scientists told you that fossil fuels would destroy the planet, and you engaged nonetheless in a decades-long deliberate campaign to deceive. You are not donors, you are thieves. You have stolen our safety, our future. You have stolen our peace of mind.”
To the Clinton Foundation, Van Susteren said, “We call on you not only to wash your hands of Exxon but to denounce them for trying to buy your silence and complicity.”
The letter singles out ExxonMobil because of ongoing investigations that indicate the company’s scientists knew full well in the 1970s about climate change and the devastating consequences of continuing to unearth and burn fossil fuels. Instead of using that information to help forge a rapid transition to clean energy, the company poured money into organizations that cast doubt on climate science while figuring out how best to take advantage of the melting Arctic it was helping to cause. Seventeen attorneys general, including from Maryland, New York, California, Massachusetts, and the Virgin Islands, are investigating Exxon for possible fraud and deception of investors. This week, ExxonMobil sued to block the Virgin Islands attorney general’s subpoena of climate change documents. The Center for International Environmental Law also released documents this week showing that fossil fuel companies knew in the late 1950s about climate change. To deal with air pollution and climate change, the industry’s aptly named Smoke and Fumes Committee opted to “promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary.”
The signers of the open letter to the Clinton Foundation include Mike Tidwell of the CCAN Action Fund; Bill Snape, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity; and 13 other nonprofit groups, as well as climate activists Tim DeChristopher and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood and actors Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo and Ed Asner. The signers “represent millions of people who support strong action on the climate crisis,” Tidwell said.
The letter calls on the foundation to disclose the dates and amounts of Exxon’s donations, to return them and to refuse them in the future. The Clinton Foundation website, which reports donations only in ranges, indicates ExxonMobil has given between $1 million and $5 million. The Wall Street Journal reported that ExxonMobil contributed about $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative. (After Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rivals, called for investigations of Exxon, she said she too supported a federal inquiry. Yet she has been criticized for accepting campaign contributions from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. )
The letter urges the foundation to return donations from other fossil fuel corporations as well. Others listed on the Clinton Foundation website include Cheniere Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Chevron.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, also called for a congressional investigation into Exxon and the fossil fuel industry. “When future historians pass judgment on the 21st century, Exxon will be at the top of the list, committing the worst crimes against the Earth and its inhabitants,” she said. She urged the Clinton Foundation to “sever all relations with Exxon and dirty energy interests” and to use its resources and prestige to seriously address the causes of climate change.
The problem with the Exxon donations is at least twofold: The Clinton Foundation’s funding priorities are what Hauter called “soft” and nowhere near what would be required to address the climate crisis. And second, climate change is simultaneously undoing projects that the foundation undertakes.
Catherine Thomasson, a physician and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the foundation has done commendable work in Kenya, for example, helping people whose drinking water and land have already been damaged by climate change. Yet the foundation “is undercutting benefits of its own work,” because Exxon’s actions cause climate change that exacerbates drought, spreads disease, floods coastal communities, and sends saltwater into farmlands.
Tidwell said the letter has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions and everything to do with the Clinton Foundation showing leadership: “A leading philanthropy should be a leader on climate change. It can’t be a leader and take money from ExxonMobil,” Tidwell said. “Because of the influence they have, I and others find it highly disappointing that the foundation doesn’t do more on climate change … and also that they would ever consider taking money” from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. “It’s time for them to do the right thing.”
September 12, 2015
All along, fasters with Beyond Extreme Energy have had two questions: How will this feel, and how will I pass the time? Of course, that’s in addition to the broader concern about how to ensure their actions help bring change.
From the day after Labor Day until Sept. 25 — 18 days — a dozen people are on a water-only fast on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, on First Street NE in Washington, just down the street from Union Station. Some have stayed overnight on the sidewalk as well, although most head for Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ to sleep.
Other people are fasting for a shorter time, at FERC or in their communities. They are calling on FERC to stop issuing permits for pipelines, compressor stations, storage and export facilities, the machinery of a fracked-gas-powered economy. They want to end the revolving door for employees between FERC and the industry it regulates. They have the support of more than 80 health professionals who have signed an open letter to FERC asking it to stop its “unethical experiment” on communities. They are fasting to show their “unwavering commitment,” as one faster’s sign says, to people and places in the way of fracking. And to a climate overheated by our insatiable appetites that require ever more fossil fuels to be extracted and burned.
The fast ends Sept. 25, the day Pope Francis speaks at the United Nations and the day after his address to Congress, when he is expected to call for climate, economic and environmental justice, topics from his encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Because the “earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” — as the pope phrased it.
Beyond Extreme Energy activists have been at FERC before, blocking its entrances in nonviolent disobedience actions or speaking out at its meetings. They are always hauled out, sometimes to jail. They and affected residents have written letters, testified, lobbied. So far, FERC has not slowed the pace of permits. It has called BXE activists a “situation,” which it has handled with new rules intended to silence dissent and isolate FERC commissioners. FERC members are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate but have no oversight other than the courts.
As the days pass, the fasters, ages 19 to 72, remain optimistic, sometimes tired, sometimes lightheaded and dizzy, particularly if they forget to get up slowly. Many say they feel weaker. Food comes only in dreams. One dreamed of a trolley of teacakes rolling by, another of eating a cookie in front of the others. One said he dreamed he had eaten a sandwich and woke up feeling shame and fearing the dream was real. One evening, Steve Norris, a retired history professor and, at 72, the oldest faster, took his son to dinner: “It was very interesting, because I was not tempted by the food. … It’s not that food doesn’t appeal to me. It does a lot. But there’s something about this mysterious journey being more important now than anything else.”
Faster Clarke Herbert, a former teacher, says one key benefit is that those fasting are getting outside their routine. “And that is what we are asking others to do” to solve our environmental and climate crisis. “We will have to move into a new world, to change from compulsive consumption. That makes fasting really beautiful,” he said.
In an email on Day 5, Norris of Asheville, NC, wrote that “the experience so far is one of both joy and sorrow: There is the great exuberation and learning that comes from working and fasting daily alongside people with rock-solid determination to challenge climate change and its attendant economic, social and racial injustices. And the exhilaration each time I see a stranger’s eyes light up and they say something like: ‘thank you for being so bold. Please keep it up.’ Then too there is the sadness of dealing daily with the reality that millions of people (the victims of Hurricane Katrina and emigrants from Syria, for example) are already dealing with the impacts of climate change, and that nothing in the short term is going to stop their uprooting and pain, and that ultimately my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren may be similarly impacted.”
Faster Lee Stewart posted on Facebook Saturday: “Today is day 5 of the 18 day water-only hunger strike at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — an agency that fuels community destruction and climate pollution. My energy and spirits ebb and flow. Sadness, joy. Fogginess, clarity. Breathlessness, stability. Can hardly walk, ready to stand strong. Much love to those who stand up to FERC all over the country. Much love to those who act for justice in the face of bleakness.”
Among the youngest fasters, at 23, Sean Glenn says she is feeling mostly “sleepy and grateful to be doing this with such amazing support.” After the fast, she heads to Rome, where she will join a 500-mile pilgrimage with former Filipino diplomat Yeb Saño, among others, to the Paris climate talks.
With no need to shop, cook or wash dishes or be much of anywhere but FERC, how do fasters fill the time?
- They offer a glossy card with information about the fast to passersby, often FERC employees. Some accept it, others walk by stony-faced. A few offer words of support. On Day 1, someone driving into the FERC parking lot accepted a flier and said FERC employees had been instructed not to talk to the fasters.
- They take a turn on the bicycle generator, which is used to power phones and laptops during the day. No passersby have taken them up on offers to try out the bike.
- They put dots on a United States map to show the locations of communities fighting fossil-fuel projects.
- They use fabric paints or markers to design fast T-shirts.
- They design and will be making quilt squares showing the harm to communities from FERC-approved projects. During the summer, faster Jimmy Betts traveled across the country with the United States of Fracking banner, which was made for an earlier BXE action at FERC. He talked to people fighting fracking and other fossil-fueled projects and now is connecting them with the fasters. Each faster will call one or more of the contacts and design a quilt square based on the conversation. BXE is also spreading the directions for the quilt squares through social media.
- They read. Some read Pope Francis’ encyclical, which was part of the inspiration and timing for the fast. Or newspapers. Or Rivera Sun’s new novel, The Billionaire Buddha, a story of love, connection, healing and awakening. “Imagine that one generation could change the course of all the generations of humanity yet to come. Imagine that the human story does not end in the chapter of today,” Rivera writes in the novel. The fasters can imagine that. Day 1 of the fast happened to coincide with International Literacy Day, which was celebrated with a read-in.
- They get interviewed by alternative media. CNN, just steps from FERC, hasn’t even poked its head out the door to ask what’s going on.
- Every few days, one of two nurse volunteers checks their blood pressure and pulse.
- They know the sun’s cycle, which beats down on the sidewalk in front of FERC from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., before slipping behind the building. During the first three days, the fierce sun and humidity had them crossing the street to the shade for meetings and respite. In the sun, they mostly sit on camping or beach chairs under rain umbrellas. They apply sunblock.
- One day, some fasters joined Elders Climate Action for a flash mob at Union Station and in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building. In the evenings, some attend #BlackLivesMatter and environmental justice meetings in DC, because all these struggles are intertwined in a system built on inequality and sacrificed communities.
- On Day 1, Doug Hendren, the Musical Scalpel, entertained the group with his guitar-playing and anti-fracking and social justice songs — “The Ballad of Pope Francis” and “Fracking’s Just a Bad Dream,” for starters.
- They hold morning and afternoon meetings to check in with each other and plan activities, including the Sept. 25 action to end the fast. That day, starting at noon, the program will include music, speakers, a procession and an attempt to deliver five copies of the pope’s encyclical to the FERC commissioners. BXE is inviting passersby who have seen the fasters daily, as well as people who have rallied in DC during the pope’s remarks to Congress the day before, to join in the ceremony to break the fast and deliver the encyclical.
- They nap.
- And they fill and refill and refill again their water bottles from jugs of spring water that faster Debbie Wagner brings from her home. Periodically, they add a bit of salt or potassium. And they hunger for climate justice.
by elisabeth hoffman
February 24, 2015
Steve Norris, a retired professor from North Carolina, is stuck in the Calvert County Detention Center for the next few days. That is not his chief concern, though. And he’s expressed no remorse for his crime.
Norris was found guilty Monday of trespass on Dec. 3 for putting a bike lock around his neck and through door handles at the offices of IHI/Kiewit, a construction contractor for Dominion’s planned fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility in Lusby. Before sentencing at his District Court trial, Norris told Judge Michelle R. Saunders that he is “extremely, extremely worried” about what the future holds for his five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another grandchild will be born this summer, a child who will be Norris’ age in 2086. Continuing to put carbon into the atmosphere will be a “disaster for the planet and a disaster for my grandchild,” he said. “I’m doing everything — in a nonviolent way,” he said. “We’ve been losing this battle,” he said, because Dominion has millions
and “we are lucky to have $10,000.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the $3.8 billion facility in September, and Dominion began construction while an appeal is in the works.
Norris was the only defendant jailed among the 20 people sentenced Monday for charges related to actions in November and December designed to raise awareness of the threat to public safety from Dominion’s planned facility in Lusby and its connection to climate change. Most —including Clarke Herbert, who also locked his neck to door handles at Kiewit — received 20-day suspended jail sentences, some with credit given for time served; three years of unsupervised probation, during which they must obey all laws; and $157.50 in fees ($100 fine and $57.50 in court costs). Norris, who had several similar prior charges in other jurisdictions, was taken directly to jail from the courtroom and will be released Thursday at 6 a.m.
Tracey Eno, a co-founder of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and a defendant as well as a witness in two cases, said she feels “satisfied” with the results. “Everyone was very professional and prepared. Our attorney, Mark Goldstone, is to credit for this. He held numerous conference calls with us in advance. I feel we got our points across: The democratic process has failed; this is a life or death situation; we are opposed to climate change and will do what it takes to create a public spectacle, increase awareness and create pressure for change.”
Early in the afternoon, Goldstone started arguing a “necessity defense,” explaining that the defendants’ actions were to prevent a greater harm. “We’re not getting into that,” Judge Saunders said. And yet with each pre-sentencing statement and some testimony, the defendants “got into that,” creating a court record of all that is at stake.
Many wore red cloth bands around their arms or neck. The cases involved the Dec. 3 lock-in at Kiewit; a Nov. 4 group dash to the top of a pile of dirt at a Dominion construction site and the unfurling of a banner that said “WE > DOMINION PROFITS”; and a Dec. 1 action outside Dominion’s construction site when protesters linked arms and sat in front of a gate. As Eno testified about the Dec. 1 action, the actions were all designed to publicize the “dangerous gas refinery in my neighborhood.” Signs and red T-shirts often say “We are Cove Point” because, Eno said, “Dominion has stolen our community’s name, which is Cove Point. We — the people — are Cove Point.”
Some of the defendants told Judge Saunders that they preferred jail time, but she stuck with the suspended sentences and lengthy probation. Several said they would not likely be able to stay on the sidelines.
“I dedicate my life to this struggle,” said Charles Chandler, who had walked and camped from Ithaca, N.Y., to Cove Point —360 miles over 27 days — and who wore a bright orange jacket with his website in large block letters on the back: PeaceWalker.net. “You’ll probably see me again. I plan to participate in unlawful, peaceful protest. If we just hold signs on the sidewalk, the corporations will just keep rolling on over us. … We’re condemning our children and future generations to a garbage planet.” Without climate justice, there is no peace, he said.
As a public school teacher in North Carolina, Greg Yost said, he tries to weigh his responsibility to his students against the knowledge that his students “face climate change throughout their lives.”
“We are aware of the science, that three years is the time frame” before climate tipping points are reached, if they have not already been passed, Yost said. “I have work to do with my students. I have work to do with climate change. Nonviolent protest is all we can do. I will be back in front of you. I have work to do.”
“I care about the community,” Michael Clark said. “We are experts on living through human-induced climate change. I did what I did in celebration and defense of life. And I refuse to pay the fine.”
“I can’t sit passively while [Dominion’s facility] is built,” Kelsey Erickson said.
Elizabeth Conover said her state, Pennsylvania, is being destroyed by fracking, and the infrastructure for fracking “is creeping south … and Cove Point is the terminus.”
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a co-director of Popular Resistance who for 15 years was a practicing pediatrician, called on Judge Saunders to help expose the secrecy around Dominion’s project. She said the company lied about the number of people nearby, about the families across the street and the 2,365 homes, 19 home day-care centers and two elementary schools within 2 miles that have no evacuation route.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Judge Saunders said, and those concerns “are not for this forum.”
“I disagree,” said Flowers, who was acting as her own attorney. “You could allow the necessity defense” and call in experts to testify. “I appeal to you as a leader in the community to not allow this severe lack of democracy to take place. … I see the truth. … I ask you to bring that truth to light.”
At that, several spectators applauded but were immediately told to be quiet.
The only other break from courtroom decorum came during one of the brief recesses. A group of half a dozen or so people started singing “We shall not be moved,” prompting evictions from the courtroom of several people — including Norris, whose case had yet to be heard.
The defendants fell mostly into two camps. They were retired and feared for the future of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Or they were young adults, facing a decidedly bleak future — unless they and others intervened.
“I’m motivated by this really serious fear of what the future holds,” said 20-year-old Elias Weston-Farber, who is often the videographer at civil disobedience actions. “Science is telling really important things about our economy and our way of getting energy,” he said.
Berenice Tompkins said she acted to prevent far greater crimes: “the theft of my future and of future generations to thrive on this Earth.” Many people have urged her not to have children, she said. “My children, your children will not be safe as a result of what Dominion is doing,” Tompkins said. “I implore you to consider that … I am acting out of love. This is the only way I can act to express that love.”
“I’m terrified by what I’m seeing,” Deborah Wagner told the judge. The people of Cove Point have gone unheard; even Gov. Martin O’Malley fell asleep at a Board of Public works hearing regarding a Dominion permit, said Wagner, a grandmother with a background in science and nursing. “This isn’t right. I’m really afraid for future generations. I can’t not be there.”
Some charges were dropped along the way. When prosecutor Michael Gerst, assistant state’s attorney, argued during the case of the dirt pile that “protest does by its nature draw attention and that is the definition of disturbance of the peace,” the judge indicated that Goldstone needn’t bother to counter: “You’re going to win that,” she told the defense attorney.
In the bike lock cases at Kiewit, Kevin Zeese, an attorney and co-founder of Popular Resistance, testified for the defendants that his role at that action was as police liaison to prevent escalation. The goal was to get an image of Norris and Herbert locked to the doors, “to let the world know Kiewit is involved in this dangerous project.” The action lasted perhaps 20 minutes, until police cut the locks. Only two doors were blocked, so no one was trapped in the building, he said. Passersby were handed literature and were watching and interested. Gerst, the prosecuting attorney, argued that people and businesses “stopping their normal daily activity” was a disturbance to the peace. But Goldstone, who wore a “We the People” tie with writing from the U.S. Constitution, successfully argued that protests are designed to create an informed electorate. “It’s not a crime for people to speak out or for people to stop and find out what is going on.” Norris, who was acting as his own attorney in the case, said Gerst’s claim was similar to “blaming civil rights’ protesters for the violence [committed] by the people who didn’t like it.” Judge Saunders dropped all but the trespass charge in that case.
Cases against three defendants — Tracey Eno, Leslie Garcia and Martine Zundmanis — were put on a ‘stet’ docket; in return for no verdict, they agreed to obey all laws, stay off Dominion property, have no contact with Dominion employees and periodically discuss plans for protests and “escalation” with the sheriff’s office. While the other trials were in progress, Eno said, she was attending one of these meetings with the sheriff’s department and a Dominion official. They asked her if she had heard rumors about explosions. Eno said she “explained that the [Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community] vision is to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the citizens of Calvert County. Many of our members practice yoga and meditation.”
This morning, Eno spoke at the Calvert County Commissioners’ meeting, her 19th presentation to the officials about the hazards of the Dominion project.
— elisabeth hoffman
UPDATE: Steve Norris was released from jail Wednesday morning, a day early. He reports that he had great conversations with his fellow inmates about Cove Point.
January 19, 2015
We have until Feb. 9 to tell the state’s Department of the Environment (MDE) what we think of proposed regulations for fracking in Maryland. And we have only to look at the “assumptions” listed in the regulations to know they are little more than snake oil, offering no protections from this industry.
Here are three key assumption used for these regulations:
E(1). “There will be positive economic impacts to environmental consultants and laboratories for the additional work that will be required by the regulations.”
Of course, we will also see “positive economic impacts” for physicians who treat people complaining of rashes, headaches, shortness of breath or hair loss. As some of the chemicals used in fracking and the emissions from well pads and compressors are known endocrine disrupters and carcinogens, we might years hence also see “positive economic impacts” for oncologists or hospitals treating babies with birth defects. These regulations are positive only in the sense that hurricanes are positive for builders and car crashes are positive for lawyers.
E(3). “There will be positive economic impacts to real estate professionals and tourism related businesses in Garrett and Allegany Counties as a result of replacing the existing regulations with these more stringent regulations.”
The state’s approach becomes clear here. MDE is comparing the proposed regulations to existing regulations for conventional gas drilling. It is not comparing the regulations to the safety we have now, the safety of not fracking. With these regulations, the state is willing to gamble with the Western Maryland tourism industry, whose growth, according to the state Office of Tourism, is outpacing all other regions of the state.
A state-commissioned economic study said it didn’t have enough evidence to calculate the harm to Western Maryland’s tourism business. But it said Garrett, in particular, “is considered one of the most diverse and fastest growing counties in the Appalachian region,” with tourism and demand for second homes a key part of that growth (p. 77-78). It also concluded that: “nonresidents may have more flexibility to avoid Western Maryland if they perceive the local trails, streams, and woodlands to be of lesser quality near drilling activity, ultimately impacting the popular second‐home market of Garrett County” (p. 91).
In other words, tourists would likely go elsewhere if they spot replacement water supplies — water buffaloes — on the front yards, or have to hike within a few hundred feet of frack towers, or kayak down a river while compressors drown out the birds, or sit on the deck listening to 24-7 flaring (allowed for up to 30 days under these regulations), or drive while stuck behind a caravan of water trucks. Vacationers won’t like that much. Residents would have to put up with all that, too. Where would they go during an out-of-control frack fire? Or even, as the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project reports, during the middle of the night if indoor pollution monitors spike?
Some Garrett business owners are not reassured. Lisa Jan and Elliott Perfetti of Moon Shadow Café and Blue Moon Rising have posted on the company’s website a call to push back against fracking:
“While industry experts and local legislators continue to perpetuate false informational campaigns about the economic benefits and supposed safety of the practice, real science has prevailed in New York and should do so here in Maryland. While we have been publicly silent to this point, that time has ended. Our business, the livelihoods of our employees and their families, and the sanctity of our precious fresh air and clean water require a fight. … [W]e will not be silent any longer.”
They ask others to join them:
“All those who want to live in a clean fresh environment with opportunities for an active outdoor lifestyle and some of the best schools in the country, move here, join our fight and create the future of western Maryland based on an ethos that values health and happiness more than money!!”
In August, the Garrett County Board of Realtors called for a ban on fracking in the Deep Creek watershed. The Realtors group cited research showing that property values near drilling activity fall as much as 27 percent. The Deep Creek Lake watershed provides about 60 percent of the real property tax base to the county, the Realtors group said, generating more than $24 million in tax revenue. “The placement of even a few gas well pads could have a negative effect on that revenue and make it more difficult for many property owners near gas wells to sell their property,” the group said in a news release.
“My family chose to invest in Mountain Maryland — by relocating here, planting a vineyard and building a business — because it is clean, green, and safe,” said Nadine Grabania, who owns Deep Creek Cellars with her husband, Paul Roberts, a member of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission. “We thought our supposedly progressive governor would make protecting the health, safety and livelihoods of all Marylanders a priority, yet the regulations he put forward do not even reflect the recommendations of his own environmental agencies. Neither are they based upon any evidence that fracking can be done safely. Had we known our state and local leadership would do so little to protect its people and its economic drivers, we would have invested elsewhere. Clearly, we would be safer if we had gone to New York.”
Linda and Mike Herdering, who recently sold their Husky Power Dogsledding business, said the new owners haven’t decided whether to stay in Garrett County, in part because of the possibility of fracking. In a letter to a local newspaper, the Herderings said, “In their stated opinion, the negative environmental impact of the fracking process and the massive industrialization that it requires would not be conducive to the dogsledding experience they wish to continue to provide.”
“This fracking proposition flies in the face of the entire Deep Creek brand,” advertising executive and illustrator Mark Stutzman of Mountain Lake Park told the state’s shale advisory commission in December, when the public had a last chance to comment on the final report on fracking by MDE and the Department of Natural Resources. “We are being steamrolled,” he said.
F(1). “The regulations will minimize the impacts from drilling to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources in these two Counties. By minimizing these impacts, the general citizenry of the two Counties will benefit from enhanced public health protection and safety, including better protections for air quality and sources of drinking water. Additionally, the natural environment of the two Counties will be better protected, including forests, rivers, streams and other water bodies, wildlife, flora and fauna.”
This is the most cynical and dangerous of the assumptions. These regulations don’t minimize harm from drilling; these regulations would permit harm from drilling.
In a report for the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission, the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH), part of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, found high or moderately high likelihood of harms to public health in seven of eight areas. Regulations have not been shown to alleviate these harms.
Local health departments could be on guard for “clusters of symptoms,” suggested Clifford Mitchell, M.D., a member of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and director of the state’s Environmental Health Bureau. The western counties will also need a health surveillance system, starting now, lest we “squander this opportunity,” according to Donald Milton, M.D., Dr.P.H., a member of the MIAEH team. So, the plan clearly is to set this experiment in motion in yet another state and document the damage.
The emerging science on fracking shows harm to public health, water quality and air quality. A recent analysis of peer-reviewed studies, found this:
- 96 percent of all papers published on health effects indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
- 87 percent of original research studies published on health outcomes indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
- 95 percent of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants.
- 72 percent of original research studies on water quality indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.
- And the science is just beginning: About 73 percent of all available scientific peer-reviewed papers have been published in the past 24 months, with a current average of one paper published each day.
That analysis was one of two key documents handed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo a week before he decided, at the advice of his acting health commissioner, that fracking would not be safe for New Yorkers. The other document was the Concerned Health Professionals of New York’s updated summary of the evidence of fracking’s risks and harms. In New York, public health experts were allowed to make the call.
In Maryland this month, a coalition of 61 health, environment, faith and advocacy groups citing the same analyses, called on the state Legislature to approve a long-term moratorium on fracking in Maryland. A group of public health experts and other scientists also called for a lengthy moratorium in Maryland following a daylong conference at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Nursing in September.
The responsibility for the proposed regulations falls not to MDE, but to its boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, who — on his way out the door — decided that Maryland could “balance” the risks and rewards of fracking. Even though that is what other states have said, to disastrous results. “Based on the available evidence, there is no reason to believe Maryland would be an exception,” Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy wrote to O’Malley after he decided fracking was ok.
Unfortunately, industry’s thumb has always been on that balance scale, outweighing (except in New York) the accumulating evidence and warnings from the public health community. Including two reports last week: The fracking industry is dumping and spilling ammonium and iodide — toxic to fish, ecosystems, and by extension, human health — into Pennsylvania and West Virginia waterways; and West Virginia is studying a threefold increase in gas-industry worker fatalities from 2009 to 2013, during the fracking boom.
O’Malley chose to ignore that his advisory commission was sharply divided on whether fracking was safe for Marylanders. That commission was to decide “whether and how” fracking could be done safely. The commissioners never decided the whether. And now O’Malley’s self-described “gold standard” regulations are likely to be pared back by Governor Hogan, who sees Western Maryland as a fracking “gold mine.”
In recommending that New York not allow fracking, acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker found too many gaps in research, likely harms to public health, and too little evidence that regulations would prevent harm to public health and the environment.
“Would I live in a community with [fracking] based on the facts that I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports behind me … my answer is no,” Zucker said. And Cuomo concurred: I would agree with your conclusion that if your children should not live [near fracking], then no one’s child should live there.”
Fracking is not safe for New Yorkers. It’s not safe for Marylanders. Or Pennsylvanians, or West Virginians, or Coloradans, or Texans, or Ohioans. Or anyone. Regulations are merely a way to make those with power appear to be safeguarding the public while doing no such thing.
Comments about the regulations may be sent to Brigid Kenney, senior policy adviser, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD, 212340-1720, or call (410) 537-3084 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 410-537-3888.
— elisabeth hoffman
November 13, 2014
In Western Maryland last week, the Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state officials scrambled to finish reviewing three years of studies on whether to proceed with fracking in Maryland.
The election the night before, though, shifted the landscape utterly. The few commissioners who have consistently raised concerns about fracking in Maryland recognized that whatever safeguards were in the works, insufficient though they might be, could be dismissed by the newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan. What the science was starting to show about the health, economic and environmental hazards for the many could be ignored for quick profit for a few.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the state and in Washington, DC, a week of peaceful and bold protests was under way, showing what people will resort to when their fears are ignored, their lives disrupted, their communities shattered, and their remaining choices few.
As part of a week of actions called Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), determined protesters headed for Cove Point and briefly took over a dirt hill where Dominion is building a pier for a fracked-gas export facility. Another protester locked herself to Dominion equipment at a predawn sit-in. In Washington, BXE activists blocked entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the mostly invisible and always intractable agency that rubberstamps pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities and is therefore the chief patron of the fracked-gas industry. The industry — and industry-bought politicians — have promoted fracked gas as clean energy and a solution to climate change when science and experience shows it is neither.
In all, about 80 people were arrested over five days in Washington and Cove Point. Some protesters had just finished walking across the country as part of the Great March for Climate Action. In addition, 15 people were arrested blocking a FERC-approved gas storage facility in salt caverns on Seneca Lake, NY.
On Monday, protesters blocked the main entrance with giant photographs of Rachel Heinhorst and her family, who live across the street from Dominion’s Cove Point front gate, and the Baum family, who live near a giant compressor station for fracked gas in Minisink, NY. In front of the portraits was a small town of shops and homes, schools and parks. Homeland Security officers guarding FERC offices eventually pulled apart this little village, much as FERC destroys communities with its rulings.
On Friday, the final day of the protests, residents of the Pennsylvania shalefields told tearful yet angry stories to FERC staff who were blocked from their offices and who had gathered on the sidewalk to watch police cut out five activists linked by lockboxes. “You have no right to poison people,” said 61-year-old Maggie Henry, who was labeled an ecoterrorist in an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force report. Her family’s 88-acre organic farm, mentioned in a 2009 New York Times article, is surrounded by the fracking industry. A mile away is a cryogenics plant; 4,100 feet away is a frack pad; a fracked-gas pipeline skirts the land, a gas-fired power plant is being built a few miles away. Four homes three miles away have replacement water tanks: “Water buffaloes dot the Pennsylvania landscape like lawn ornaments,” she said. An earthquake in March from nearby fracking damaged her home’s foundation and cracked the drywall. That farmhouse, which has been in her husband’s family for 100 years, sits empty and she is searching for land elsewhere. “I don’t have the nerve to tell people [the food] is organic,” she said, because of the nearby emissions of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine-disrupters such as toluene, ethylene, butylethylene.
Penni Laine of Summit Township told a similar story: Her tap water can ignite, and she has an air monitor in her house. On a good day, she said, her daughter can say, “Yay, Mom, the air is ‘unhealthy’ today. It’s not ‘hazardous.’ ”
“We are living now in a war zone,” said Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania who writes the impatient and scathing blog, The Wrench, about the fracking industry’s devastating occupation of her state. Trooper Mike Hutson with the Pennsylvania State Police/FBI Joint Ecoterrorism Task Force once showed up uninvited at her door. “FERC does not listen. FERC does not care. FERC needs to be disbanded. FERC needs to be dissolved,” she told the FERC crowd. “FERC exists to broker permits [for Chevron, Anadarko, Exco, Williams Partners and others]. FERC does not do anything but the bidding of big industry.”
A giant poster at the FERC action shows an empty swing with three frack towers rising in the background. Another showed a map of schools and frack sites and asked: “Our children are at risk. Would you send you kids to these schools?”
BXE protesters called on FERC to repeal permits for the Cove Point export plant, the Myersville and Minisink compressor stations, and the Seneca Lake salt-cavern storage facility; to halt future permits for fracked-gas infrastructure; and to consider as a priority the rights of human beings and all life on Earth.
Back at the Eastern Garrett Volunteer fire hall in Finzel, members of the shale advisory commission were reviewing the last three studies, all done by the staff at the state Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources: a 241-page risk analysis, a 7-page traffic study and a climate study that barely runs over onto a fourth page.
Notable about the risk study is what it doesn’t cover: risks from downstream infrastructure (such as export plants and gas lines). The risk study doesn’t say one way or the other whether fracking can be done without “unacceptable” risks, the benchmark Gov. Martin O’Malley set in the executive order that put the commission and studies in motion. And the study says more monitoring and modeling would be needed to understand the cumulative and synergistic effects of fracking on air quality in Garrett County and the rest of the state. The overall probability of air emissions is high, the report says, while the “consequences cannot be determined at this time” because of a lot of unknowns. (Appendix B, p. 44) (Comments on the risk study, due Nov. 17, should be sent to email@example.com with the words “Risk Assessment” in the subject line.)
The greatest risks to humans, the report concludes, would be from truck traffic and accidents, noise, and methane migration to water wells. The last of those perils, the report says, could be reduced to a low risk if fracking operations are at least 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) from drinking water sources. (The state’s best practices propose a 2,000-foot setback from drinking water sources, with reductions allowed under some circumstances.) The greatest threats to the environment are from fragmenting forests and farms, and “subsurface releases or migration” — underground leaks — of frack fluid and frack waste. All the risk levels assigned assume that the state’s best management practices will be in place and enforced.
“We don’t know what the level of enforcement is going to be, we don’t know how many staff are going to be hired,” said Matthew Rowe, the MDE deputy director of the Science Services Administration who led the study.
“There’s no way you can verify and enforce some of these [best practices],” Commissioner Ann Bristow said, “but you use them to reduce the risk.” She called this one of the Catch-22s of the study.
The other, she said, is that the study ranks risks as lower only because few people in any one location would be affected. “You are studying risk analysis in an area that you know is sparsely populated and now you are using sparse population as a reason not to assess risk as severe.”
She held up a paper titled “LOCALIZED, AND DISENFRANCHISED: Who Endures Fracking Risks?” that lists numerous occasions when the study reduced the risk from high to moderate or moderate to low because the risks were “localized.” She had worked on the paper with Nadine Grabania, who co-owns a winery and farm outside Friendsville with her husband, Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the shale advisory panel. For example: “The consequence of the release of drilling fluid is classified as moderate because, although it could cause considerable adverse impact on people or the environment, the damage would be localized.” (Appendix, p. 15)
“What I hear you saying is that because it’s occurring to a very small number of people, the risk isn’t that great,” Roberts said.
“We are talking about human beings who are living close to these facilities … where there is going to be considerable adverse effect,” Bristow said. Then ensued a brief discussion about how many people harmed is too many. Three? 500? Bristow said they would be “sacrificed.” Commissioner Harry Weiss objected, but Bristow said, “I am going to use some superlative language here” when so much is a stake.
Also troubling was that the risk study labeled many threats as “moderate,” which at first glance sounds downright reasonable and benign. All things in moderation, as they say. But, Bristow and Roberts said, the study defines moderate as: “Considerable adverse impact on people or the environment. Could affect the health of persons in the immediate vicinity; localized or temporary environmental damage.” Suddenly, moderate is sounding rather grim. And keep in mind that all but four counties in Maryland lie on top of shale basins.
Commissioner George Edwards, re-elected state senator in the Republican rout of the night before, was getting impatient. Worried about trucking? A distribution center brings traffic, too, but no one would ask for a risk study on that, he said. Forest fragmentation? Wildlife and hunters like it, he said. You can’t get 100 percent guarantee on anything, he also said. And, mocking Trout Unlimited’s push for a ban on fracking in the Savage River watershed, Edwards said, “Maybe we need to do a study on the fishermen to see if they might get hurt if they slip on a rock.” One of the commissioners, Nick Weber, who had long pushed for the risk study, is a past chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited.
“You are going to see a big change in Annapolis this year,” Edwards said. “We had an election. … People went and voted, and they elected people that publicly said they supported drilling but they want it done right.” He also mentioned that he had not read the risk analysis.
And on Friday, the day Pennsylvanians told their stories of despair outside FERC’s offices, the day protesters were shouting “The people are rising. No more compromising,” and signs said “Protect Our Children. Stop Drilling Near Our Schools,” and “Climate Can’t Wait,” The Cumberland Times-News published reactions from Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel about the election. Beitzel called the election a “game-changer.” The commission’s onerous proposals would squash drilling in Maryland, he said, and he hoped the new administration would moderate regulations, “more like what other states have done.”
Indeed, during the campaign, Hogan accused the state of “studying [fracking] to death.” As an “all-of-the-above kind of guy” on energy, Hogan called natural gas a “clean energy” and fracking “critical to our state economy.”
Protests continued Monday at Cove Point, where Lusby resident Leslie Garcia was arrested while trying to deliver an eviction notice to Dominion. About 50 residents and other supporters picketed at the entrance of the construction site. “I have nothing to lose by protesting, because I have everything to lose if this project continues,” Garcia said.
September 29, 2014
A group of public health experts and other scientists meeting in Baltimore this month have called for a 10-year moratorium on fracking in Maryland.
And if surrounding states continue experimenting on their people, animals, land, air and water, then Western Maryland counties should serve as the control group, the experts suggested, with research scientists based in Garrett and Allegany.
That recommendation and much more emerged this month from the Symposium on Health and the Marcellus Shale in Maryland, held at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Rebecca Ruggles, director at the Maryland Environmental Health Network (MEHN), organized the conference to help answer the question confounding state officials: Can fracking be done safely in our state? The idea was to get comments on the recently completed health study — by the University of Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) — and send them on to policymakers. The conference was co-hosted by Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.
From the conference report: “As public health professionals whose responsibility is protecting the health of all Marylanders, we should not pretend that we’ll know what to do in the next couple of years — we acknowledge that it may take 10 years or more to fully understand the health ramifications of hydro fracturing, and importantly, how to mitigate the health risks associated” with unconventional shale gas production.
Make no mistake: The recommendations from this conference are a gift to Marylanders. With this call for a moratorium in hand — along with the health study, with its code red and yellow warnings for seven of eight areas of concern — Marylanders can with confidence tell state regulators that we don’t want to be part of an experiment and we cannot safely allow fracking here anytime soon. (Comments on the health study are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Citizen Shale offers guidance on making comments is here.)
The conference started out routinely enough, with an overview of the health report and a panel of scientists praising Maryland for doing what no other state has done: conduct a health study, solicit comments from expert reviewers, and release it for public discussion before making decisions about fracking. The report, they said, captured well the state of the science thus far.
“We didn’t do this in Pennsylvania, and we’re still not doing this in Pennsylvania. We’re just rushing ahead and ‘drill, baby, drill,’ ” said Bernard Goldstein, M.D., former dean at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, who moderated the discussion
But then came the research gaps. And stories from surrounding states. Participants were promised anonymity regarding specific comments in the symposium report, but some agreed to be quoted here.
David Brown, Sc.D., a public health toxicologist, described his findings from case studies of people in southwestern Pennsylvania. There, he has measured emissions inside homes and found dangerous peaks, particularly in the middle of the night. And found people complaining of rashes, headaches, fatigue. “Are there health effects? I can lay that to rest,” Dr. Brown said. “There are. … There are exposures, and they are occurring today. There are things industry could do, but I don’t have a lot of confidence” in that happening. “Individuals will have to do their own protections,” he said.
Because local governments have failed to step in, his organization, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, puts air monitors in homes and tells people how to minimize exposure and watch for warning signs — and when to get out. “We have people calling us at night trying to find a hotel room to get out of the house,” he said. Maryland officials would have to assess county health departments and “see if they can deal with people calling them in the night.”
Michael McCawley, Ph.D., of West Virginia University, whose expertise is in air quality, described his research on radioactive tailings from fracking operations in West Virginia. Companies truck these tailings — which have hitched a ride from deep underground with the gas and some of the frack fluid — to a hazardous waste incinerator in Ohio, where the top of the stack is the same height as a school on the adjacent hillside. So, when a state outsources its waste, as Maryland proposes to do, “you are putting radioactive waste from those tailings into that grammar school. That’s your moral responsibility,” he said. In addition, high ozone levels at midnight in a small West Virginia town are from weather fronts moving east from Ohio. “So what’s going up in Ohio is coming back to Oakland, Maryland. You are not allowed to exclude it from your impact.”
Pouné Saberi, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical assistant professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, pointed to a lack of research on food from fracked areas (such as on the meat of hunted deer), increase in traffic accidents, emergency rooms ill-equipped to handle hazardous materials used in fracking, and a shortage of mental health providers. She also has heard anecdotes about an increase in the use of psychiatric medication in fracked areas. Missing, she said, is a regional health assessment from the fracking and buildout of pipelines and compressor stations.
When the after-lunch small-group discussions started reporting back, a consensus quickly emerged: Don’t repeat the mistake of other states. Close the gap between science and policy by getting rid of secrecy. No secret toxic chemicals punched through aquifers and threatening soil and lungs. No more nondisclosure agreements, with industry buying silence from harmed families. Come up with a solution for frack wastewater. Sending it to other states with less stringent standards only outsources the problem to unprotected communities. Industry should fix the stubbornly high rates of casing failure — 6 percent right off the bat and 60 percent over a couple decades — that pose threats to aquifers and streams. Figure out the health costs in dollars. More research. More time. And if some people will be losers, that needs to be disclosed.
Dr. Goldstein pressed the group: How would Maryland determine when it has enough information?
And from that question came the recommendation for a 10-year moratorium. Research will continue piecemeal, and answers will not be available for many years. So, redo the health study in a decade, when much more will be known.
Ann Bristow, Ph.D., a member of the state’s Marcellus shale advisory commission, then suggested that Maryland be the “baseline state” for research, with scientists located in Western Maryland doing the testing, which would create another economic engine for the two counties. “We are the comparison for your experimental states,” she said.
Suddenly, Maryland’s path seemed so clear. Although, as Dr. Goldstein pointed out in a 2012 op-ed, Pennsylvanians and those in other states remain the guinea pigs.
Sacoby Wilson, PhD., on a conference call this month about the state’s health report, echoed the symposium’s conclusions. Dr. Wilson, who worked on the health report and whose research focuses on environmental justice, said, “We don’t know enough information to allow” the industry to start hydraulic fracturing in Maryland. In addition, he said, data collected for the report shows a shortage of physicians and emergency personnel in Garrett County already. He also said the study was unable to assess cumulative harms from drilling — not only in Western Maryland but in shale basins throughout the state — and from pipelines and compressors that would be needed. Nor did the study address climate change. Because research is insufficient, he said, Maryland should apply a precautionary approach rather than promulgate regulations.
Ten years from now, energy generation, conservation, and climate change could all force a very different hand. Maryland can wait to make this decision.
September 24, 2014
“We always think we’re alone,” said Kendall Hale of Asheville, NC, marveling at the crowd amassing along the west side of Central Park near 81st Street for the People’s Climate March. “That’s why we have to come together here.”
Now we know. Now the world knows. We are not alone.
As many as 400,000 people took over mid-Manhattan on Sunday calling for an end to an economy fueled by exhumed dinosaur-era plants and animals whose combustion is disrupting our climate. An end to ever more extreme techniques to blast oil, gas and coal from our land and beneath our seas. The outpouring combined street carnival, marching band, costume party, dance, theater, art extravaganza, and protest. So many marched that those toward the back half of the crowd waited until at least 2 p.m. to move forward, long after the front half of this giant centipede took the first steps around 11:30 a.m. No matter though, because charter buses caught in traffic were delayed reaching drop-off points. Packed subway cars full of marchers and signs felt short on oxygen. The march was so long, we eventually got text messages to veer off the route many blocks before the overwhelmed streets at the finish.
Gathering just south of 81st Street was the contingent opposed to fracked gas, which the fossil fuel industry, most of the political machinery and even some major environmental groups have branded as a key piece of the solution to climate chaos. Our group was there to say we will not stand for swapping out one sacrifice zone, one health disaster, one means of climate suicide for another. We were there to expose the wrong-headed “all of the above” strategy that chases down the hardest-to-get fossil fuels and their harmful collateral. And digs us deeper into our climate hole. T-shirts and signs said Fracking = methane = climate crisis. Another sign: I am a father, not a sacrifice. And, Halliburton, go frack yourself. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. And Dethrone King CONG: Coal Oil Nuclear and Gas.
Many were there to stop fracking’s noxious conjoined twins: pipelines and compressor stations. Minisink marchers who continue to fight the compressor station built in their community had Ban Fracking Now signs. Others held signs to Stop the Enbridge experiment and Stop the Algonquin pipeline expansion. Several marchers carried a set of red pitchforks declaring Natural gas is worse than coal, Fracking makes a deal with the devil, and They get rich, we get cancer. Some signs condemned frac sand mining.
Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York’s Democratic primary with a no–fracking platform, walked through the contingent staging area, accepting hugs and thanks. Josh Fox, the director of the “GasLand” movies, marched with the group and posed for many photos with fans.
Children in the group passed the hours waiting to march by kicking around methane and carbon-dioxide molecules fashioned from black and white beach balls taped together. Thus, climate-wrecking methane — CH4 — had a black carbon beach ball at the center with four white hydrogen balls taped around it. Adults shook a huge parachute, and children ran under it with the molecules. Or the molecules bounced around on top, just as they leak from fracking wells and compressor stations and along gas pipelines. “Oh, my gosh! It’s climate chaos,” someone with a megaphone yelled.
At 12:58 p.m., silence overtook the crowd to remember communities already feeling the brunt of climate disruption. For two minutes, this mass of humanity stood, arms raised, with only the noise from a helicopter wup-wupping overhead. And then a wave of shouts and cheers emerged from the south, gaining strength as others joined in. The giant and crescendoing cry for swift action to save ourselves and all we love in this world. To dismantle the economic model that allows exorbitant profit for the few built on broken communities, ailing bodies, exhausted soils, poisoned streams, dying species, acidic oceans, and an unraveling climate system.
We started marching from 81st Street at 2:02 p.m. Hoisting a large cardboard LNG tanker and carrying it coffin-like through the streets were Tracey Eno, who’s fighting Dominion’s fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility in her Calvert County town; Steve Norris and Kendall Hare, who helped organize last summer’s Walk For Our Grandchildren and who were arrested at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this summer; Alex Lotorto from fracked Pennsylvania, who also was arrested at FERC. Along the side of the tanker were the words SS Dominion Titanic. Others carried an inflatable white pipeline, representing the pipelines that would carry fracked gas from the Marcellus shalefields to Dominion’s factory at Cove Point. Several wore bull’s eyes that read Not one sacrifice. Other signs said Fracked gas is not a bridge fuel and, on the flip side, Not an exit ramp either. New Yorkers, whose state, like Maryland, has so far stopped fracking at the border, led a chant: “We love New York; Don’t frack it up. And “We love the world. Don’t frack it up.”
An inflated Earth ball crowd-surfed its way along the route, not always kept aloft by often surprised marchers. A woman watching the march from the side held out a sign: Your grandchildren are more likely to die from climate change than from terrorism. A child held a sign: Sledding on grass isn’t fun. Others included: We raced to the moon; Let’s race to clean energy and Stop digging for the answer: Look up. And Windmills not weapons. Ride a bicycle, save an icicle. United for justice: We are all Maldivians. Corporate Fascism; see something, say something. Stop funding fossils: Divest from the fossil fuel industry + end subsidies. Farther forward in the march, a giant silver bomb of a float proclaimed US Military/Largest consumer of oil/Largest emitter of C02. Just behind was the Veterans for Peace marching band.
A large-screen Jumbotron at one point along the way showed similar marches in Paris and Melbourne, New Delhi and Bogota. In all, 350.org counted 2,808 solidarity events in 166 countries. We all said, enough, already. Enough.
Your thoughts: Many from Howard County boarded a bus in Columbia before dawn and under the sliver of a moon. Please post some comments with your thoughts on the march. If you had to miss it, what are your thoughts after reading coverage of the march?
What’s next: The People’s Climate March was just the beginning. Several days of actions at FERC are planned for the first week in November. Sign up at Beyond Extreme Energy. https://sites.google.com/site/beyondextremeenergy/ Endorsers include Bill McKibben and Sandra Steingraber.
Comment on the state’s fracking health study before Oct. 3 at 5 p.m.: Look over the study’s table of contents and find an area of concern to you. Then send comments to: email@example.com Several ClimateHoward blog posts explain the study, such as here and here. The Maryland Environmental Health Network has a written Topics for Consideration here. The Maryland researchers conducting the study found many areas of concern and numerous gaps in knowledge about fracking’s effects.
September 18, 2014
Tracey Eno handed federal energy regulators a check for $79 today.
The money is a grant from Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, which for more than a year has been fighting Dominion’s $3.8 billion scheme to liquefy and export fracked gas from their Southern Maryland town — “850 feet from where children are playing, sleeping and getting on the school bus,” Eno said.
Seizing a moment before the start of the monthly meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, DC, Eno urged regulators to use the grant to buy the most recent edition of national fire safety standards that govern the production, storage, and handling of liquefied natural gas. FERC’s preliminary approval for the Dominion facility cited the 2001 edition, which, Eno told commissioners, “fails to incorporate the lessons learned from the catastrophic explosions at a Skikda, Algeria, LNG export terminal in 2004. That disaster flattened steel buildings, killed 27 people and injured more than 70.”
“Dominion calls itself a ‘good neighbor’ — because it has neighbors,” Eno said. “It sits right across the street from hundreds of homes, and next door to a public park. Cove Point is closer to people’s homes than any other proposed export site. Dominion’s application grossly misrepresented the population of Lusby. They didn’t even list our town—the very town where their plant is located. They ‘forgot’ 39,732 people who live in the surrounding area. They ‘missed’ almost 90 percent of us. Cove Point is NOT a remote site! Inside the 2-mile evacuation radius alone there are more than 8,000 people.”
Others opposed to the Dominion facility stood near Eno, holding up small banners saying “EIS for COVE POINT” until officers made them lower the signs.
“I’m also here standing in solidarity with all those who can’t come to DC today — from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to the playgrounds of Myersville, Maryland,” Eno said. “We stand in opposition to the web of pipelines and compressor stations that are turning our rural, beautiful, towns into sacrifice zones as a direct result of this and related projects.”
FERC Chairman Cheryl A. LaFleur thanked Eno. And called the regular meeting to order.
Here is the text of Tracey Eno’s speech to the commission:
Commissioners: My name is Tracey Eno. I am a resident of Lusby, MD, from a neighborhood called Cove Point. None of you came to the FERC meeting in Lusby, so I have come to you. Right now, you are in danger of turning my neighborhood into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry — if you approve the Dominion Cove Point LNGexport facility without fully studying the hazards of the project.
My neighbors and I have dedicated a significant part of our lives over the past year to understanding the threats this $3.8 billion project would pose to us. I wish I had a reason to be confident that you — FERC commissioners — have done the same. I wish I had a reason to think that you viewed as ‘significant’ the health and safety of my community, the climate, the Chesapeake Bay, and all the communities in the way of Dominion’s fracked gas exports. But, sadly, I do not.
For more than a year, we have been pleading with you to provide the information on the full effects from this proposal — in the form of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement. This should include at minimum a basic human safety study: a Quantitative Risk Assessment. Yet, at every turn you have lowered the bar of scrutiny for Dominion, even as the evidence of threats to our communities has continued to rise.
COVE POINT IS CLOSER TO PEOPLE’S HOMES THAN AT ANY OTHER PROPOSED EXPORT SITE. Dominion’s application grossly misrepresented the population of Lusby. They didn’t even list our town — the very town where their plant is located! They “forgot” 39,732 people who live in the surrounding area. They “missed” almost 90 percent of us. Cove Point is NOT a remote site! Inside the 2-mile evacuation radius alone there are more than 8,000 people.
If built, Cove Point will be only the second LNG export terminal ever built in the lower 48. It will have the unique and terrifying distinction of being the only LNG export terminal in the history of the industry ever to be built in such a densely populated, residential area. Dominion calls itself a “Good Neighbor” — because it has neighbors. It sits right across the street from hundreds of homes, and next door to a public park. A large-scale liquefaction train, filled with highly pressurized, explosive, propane refrigerant will be operating 24/7 about 850 feet from where children are playing, sleeping and getting on the school bus. Never was the need for remote siting regulations more critical than for this project.
I didn’t come here empty-handed today. We know federal budgets are tight, so I brought with me a check for $79, which is a grant from Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community.
Please use it to buy a copy of the latest safety standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association: NFPA 59A: “Standard for the Production, Storage, and Handling of Liquefied Natural Gas 2013 Edition.” The 2013 edition was written to safeguard the lives of citizens living close to LNG terminals.
Lusby residents were HORRIFIED to learn in the draft environmental assessment that FERC applied the 2001 federal fire protection standards. 2001 does not adequately address the dangers of LNG export equipment and processes. It fails to incorporate the lessons learned from the catastrophic explosions at a Skikda, Algeria, LNG export terminal in 2004. That disaster flattened steel buildings, killed 27 people and injured more than 70. The 2013 edition is the first to wisely require a quantitative risk assessment to assess the risks to residents offsite.
We believe that you know full well that an analysis of the risks to residents at Cove Point would shock the conscience of America. Because such an analysis couldn’t help but show how much risk our government is willing to dump on the shoulders of its citizens to benefit a private enterprise. But just in case a budget issue is keeping FERC from applying the latest safety standards, we wanted to pitch in and do our part. Our lives are worth at least 79 bucks. Please buy, and use, the 2013 NFPA 59A standards.
I’m not here just for my family and my neighborhood, I’m also here standing in solidarity with all those who can’t come to DC today — from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to the playgrounds of Myersville, Maryland. We stand in opposition to the web of pipelines and compressor stations that are turning our rural, beautiful, towns into sacrifice zones as a direct result of this and related projects.
Commissioners, we’re watching you. My neighbors have submitted significant technical comments. We’ve worked with allies to gather more than 150,000 public comments. We’ve testified in person to the “stand-in officials” you sent to the public meeting in Lusby in May. I’ve also brought a petition with 19,502 signatures of people across the country who are urging you to look more closely at the dangers of Cove Point. They are urging you to make the decision that serves the public good — not the gas industry’s bottom line — by denying Cove Point.
I’m here to ask you to do the right thing. Show us that our safety matters to you. Show us that you are a regulator for the public interest, not merely a servant of the oil and gas industry. Cove Point is NOT a remote site! We know it and you know it. Please don’t put me and my Cove Point neighbors in harm’s way. Order a full Environmental Impact Statement, including a Quantitative Risk Assessment. Study ALL the facts before you consider approving Dominion Cove Point. OR — just be honest — and admit that a residential neighborhood is the wrong place for dangerous LNG exports — and deny Dominion Cove Point right now.
August 22, 2014
As Maryland closes in on a decision whether to allow fracking, two key studies — on economic and health effects — are in play. One doesn’t deliver on its main mission. The other has huge gaps, not of its own making but because the science it relied on is incomplete.
So, if the process works, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission and the Maryland Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources (DNR) should at the very least, with these studies in mind, tell Gov. Martin O’Malley that they don’t have the information necessary to decide whether fracking poses unacceptable risks to the state’s residents. That’s what the governor, in his 2011 executive order, said he wanted to know.
visions of dollar signs
The biggest trouble with Maryland’s $150,000 economic study of fracking was what was missing: the effect on tourism. A few years of boom followed by a bust will ensue, the report said. But we suspected that before we even took a peek. Western Maryland will get some jobs and tax revenue. We knew that in advance, too. All that is documented with rows of numbers and dollar signs.
What everyone wanted to know was whether fracking would harm tourism, the main economic engine in Western Maryland, and, if so, by how much? We still don’t know.
Dr. Daraius Irani and his Towson University team’s economic report on fracking in Western Maryland took such a pummeling at the commission meeting Monday at Frostburg University that one observer remarked that he was beginning to feel sorry for the economist. In addition, an economist living in Garrett County is already on record asking for his taxpayer money back.
“I knew our report would be disliked by both sides of the argument,” Irani said, as if that were the problem. It’s not.
He apologized a couple times and said the team at the university’s Regional Economic Studies Institute is rewriting and reorganizing the report, released in May, because of numerous complaints. The “well is dry,” though, he said, and “every hour is on our dime. We’re doing this because we want a good report.”
He said the team was unable to get sufficient data on drilling’s effect on tourism. He mentioned, however, one Utah study indicating that tourism and extractive industry could coexist with sufficient geographic separation. “If you have extractive industry, you probably wouldn’t want to put them next to your natural wonders,” he said. How large of a separation? He didn’t know.
The report found that property values within a half-mile of drilling would decline 7 to 9 percent, a falloff that would continue for years after drilling had ended. Turns out, though, that this estimate is based on data from conventional gas wells, which don’t produce nearly the disruption that comes with fracking. The report also failed to examine costs from accidents or well-water contamination. (Costs to community health and emergency systems weren’t part of the study scope — or any of the state’s study scopes, for that matter.) The report also couldn’t say how many local residents would get the boom-year jobs, although Irani said he would try to include an estimate in the rewritten report.
The report included a number of warnings, though, including that nonresidents might “avoid Western Maryland if they perceive the local trails, streams, and woodlands to be of lesser quality near drilling activity — ultimately impacting the popular second-home market of Garrett County.”
And the report quotes another study, prepared in New York: “[T]he regional industrialization associated with widespread drilling could do substantial damage…threatening the long‐term growth of tourism.”
Curious language indicates that “tourism-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, retail, etc.) can provide the amenities needed by shale drilling workers.” Leaving us to imagine drillers relaxing at B&B’s and taking a kayak ecotour in their off time.
And then this warning: “[T]ourism can be part of long-term economic development strategy, whereas employment growth associated with drilling is typically short-term.”
Overall, Irani said, the report doesn’t recommend whether to allow fracking. “This is an opportunity for the counties to make decisions about whether they want to pursue this or not,” he said.
Leaving several commissioners fuming.
“I heard you just now recommend….that the counties need to look closely at the options and weigh the pros and cons. That’s what we get for $150,000?” said Paul Roberts, a farmer and winery owner who is the citizen representative on the commission.
Irani said he had described the lack of data to the departments last summer but had already commissioned the contingent valuation survey (an economic tool to gauge how much people would be willing to pay to protect the environment and avoid drilling). “We tried basically, as best we could, to squeeze in the tourism study. …The issue is really data. There are not any good data.”
“We agreed that was a principal part of your job,” Roberts continued. “What else would we be doing this for, except this?”
Irani called the report an objective analysis. “We tried to walk that fine line. There are no clear answers,” he said. “Drilling and tourism can exist as one, depending on the separation of the two.” And, “I apologize. I just don’t have the data.”
“We failed to get at a central issue in this debate,” said Roberts, who also said he would would be writing the governor to ask for money for another study.
“We don’t have the answers to so many things that could cost this region so much money,” Commissioner Ann Bristow said.
Commissioner and Del. Heather Mizeur said the state had initially hoped to fund the studies with fees from land leases. At that time, MDE and DNR officials estimated they would need $4 million. When the legislation failed during two sessions, O’Malley approved $1.5 million for studies. Maryland gets credit for studying before fracking, Mizeur said, but the funding and studies “have been woefully inadequate to get at the range of questions we had.”
Many in the audience also expressed grave disappointment with the report.
Michael Bell, Ph.D., an economist at George Washington University who said he operates a tourism-related business in the Deep Creek area with his wife, said the report “really doesn’t address the question that would affect my livelihood and my ability to retire.” In addition, in a comment about the report posted at the state’s study commission website, Bell wrote: “If [I] had turned in a report like this I would not have received payment for the work because it would be unacceptable. As a taxpayer, I want my money back.”
“We wanted to know the impact on tourism from drilling,” said Eric Robison, a co-founder of Citizen Shale and a member of the county’s Shale Gas Advisory Committee. “Now it’s been reduced to a sideline.”
“It’s extremely self-evident that the linkage of tourism and property values … is the elephant in the room,” said Paul Durham of the Garrett County Board of Realtors. “We have to study it and report out on it before making any decisions.” The Board of Realtors also issued a press release days before the meeting saying it opposed fracking in the Deep Creek Lake Watershed because of research indicating a 22 percent loss in property values in drilling areas.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the unknowns have to do with risk … and more of the knowns have to do with benefits,” said John Quilty, also a member of the county’s shale advisory committee.
Ken Braitman of Frostburg (and Bristow’s husband) picked up on Irani’s recommendation not to drill near natural wonders: “The whole county is a natural wonder.”
into the red zone
The health report, previewed in June and based on a review of available scientific literature, outlined the many hazards associated with drilling, especially from air pollution, an overburdened local health-care system, and dangers for gas workers. Those working in the industry, for example, are at risk from “silica sand [which causes silicosis], hydrogen sulfide, and diesel particulate matter, as well as fatalities from truck accidents, which accounted for 49% of oil and gas extraction fatalities in 2012, … mental distress, suicide, stress, and substance abuse.”
The report includes eight scorecards about the hazards, each derived from adding up a number of risk factors documented in scientific studies — such as duration of exposure, frequency of exposure, likelihood of health effects, magnitude of health effects, and effectiveness of setbacks. A summary of the scorecards is here:
Worth noting is that the scorecards for water contamination and cumulative risks — with hazards ranked as “moderately high” — would have been in the “high” risk, red zone with an extra point or two.
And they got just one point in several categories only because the study team couldn’t determine the risk: “[E]vidence regarding the magnitude/severity of health effect could not be determined because of insufficient data.” Without more data, these categories, with their promise of “moderately” high risk, offer a bit of comfort where none might be warranted.
The report includes 52 recommendations for reducing the hazards, including full disclosure of frack chemicals and no allowance for trade secrets. (The state’s proposed best practices make some allowances for trade secrets.) The report also recommends a minimum setback of 2,000 feet from residential property lines for wells and compressors that don’t use electric motors. (The state’s proposed best practices list 1,000 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other occupied buildings.) Even the greater setback, though, has no scientific basis. One of the three experts invited to review the health report, John L. Adgate, Ph.D, of the Colorado School of Public Health, wrote, “additional measurements, modeling, and knowledge about processes on well pads are needed to address the scientific basis for setbacks.” ( Comments from all reviewers are here.)
Other recommendations include: starting a birth outcomes surveillance system (to watch for birth defects, stillbirths and low birth weights found in some studies); start a study of dermal, mucosal and respiratory irritation (reports are numerous of residents complaining of rashes, nosebleeds and asthma in drilling areas); develop a funding mechanism for public health studies; require air, water and soil monitoring to protect the community and workers; assess whether standard setbacks are sufficient; require monitoring of leaking methane, a powerful greenhouse gas; and train emergency and medical personnel to be able to care for the industry workers.
“There are a lot of unfunded mandates here,” Bristow said.
And a lot of monitoring by communities: “Engage local communities in monitoring and ensuring that setback distances are properly implemented.” And “Create a mapping tool for community members using buffer zones (setback distance) around homes, churches, schools, hospitals, daycare centers, public parks and recreational water bodies.”
And many unknowns, acknowledged in a section called Limitations. The industry is new, the science is limited, money is short, and some illnesses might not show up for years.
“To do original research is $15 million or so … and [would] take 10 years,” said Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, a commissioner and director of the state’s Environmental Health Bureau at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “What we’re doing in the country is we are doing that study without intending to do that study. … In Pennsylvania, they’re doing [research] on their population.”
“So, perhaps we will continue the experiment here,” Commissioner Nick Weber muttered.
Would the recommendations mitigate adverse impacts, taking a high to a medium, Commissioner Harry Weiss asked.
“It doesn’t say you can lower a score by 10 points if you adopt this recommendation,” said Mitchell, who outlined the report but deferred many questions until next month’s meeting, when the study team would be present. The recommendations would only bring some improvement and help prepare Maryland, he said.
Research into the hazards of tobacco took many years, Bristow said. “We are really looking at exactly the same kind of problem.” She encouraged the commission to “stand up and say we’ve got to have answers.”
Rebecca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, praised the report as a “momentous” start. “Other states are not doing experiments. They are experimenting on their populations,” she said. In a press release issued about the report, she said, “This report should be viewed as Maryland’s first, not last, inquiry into health impacts. The work is not complete.”
on high alert
A new sign was outside the meeting room Monday:
Guards checked bags. A Frostburg student’s hoisting of a jug of brown water during last month’s meeting triggered the heightened concern for security and safety.
Later, Mitchell advised commissioners to move to seats in the audience so as not to strain their shoulders while turning to view his PowerPoint slides.
If we are concerned about backpacks and ergonomics, we should be on high alert about contaminated air and water; climate-changing methane; trucks chewing up and crashing on narrow, winding roads; babies born too small or with birth defects; asthma; skin rashes; falling property values; loss of peace and quiet; unmeasured threats to tourism and food businesses built on healthy forests, rivers and farmland; and an energy future built on fracked gas, snaking pipelines and compressor stations dotting the landscape. Maryland’s western counties are worried about revenue gaps, closing schools, and young people moving away, but grasping at fracking seems the most unimaginative and dangerous of solutions.
As both these reports show, too much about fracking is unknown. Much of what we do know isn’t good. The governor’s executive order creates a false deadline. Instead of rushing to meet it, the commission and state departments should acknowledge what they don’t know. And ask for more time for the research to unfold.
The official comment period for the economic study is closed, but send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org