fracking’s not-so-rosy outlook

January 24, 2013

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Fracktivists earlier this week at a briefing of the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
//photo by Megan Jenny of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

A few fracking-related and polar bear updates are in order.

Harm from fracking: Jannette M. Barth, an independent economist, has strongly criticized a study funded by the gas industry that, not surprisingly, found that fracking would be an unmitigated boon to Western Maryland. Her report was given to members of the state Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee during a briefing on fracking this week.

A little background on Barth: She graduated from Johns Hopkins University and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Maryland-College Park. She was chief economist of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and a member of the commission studying the economic impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has 35 years of experience in economic modeling and forecasting and is president of J.M. Barth & Associates in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The natural gas industry has long pointed to a March 2012 Sage Policy Group report to justify its push to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The Sage report found $4 million in benefits from each well and $14,000 in economic damage.

Barth reaches a different conclusion: “The Shale gas industry will create an industrial landscape in formerly rural and pristine Western Maryland. Existing industries that are vital to Western Maryland, such as tourism, agriculture, hunting, fishing and vacation-home construction, are likely to decline as these industries are not compatible with an industrial landscape or with a real or perceived threat to water, air and land contamination. In the long-term, the two counties may be worse off if shale gas development is permitted.”

She writes that she found it “shocking” that no peer-reviewed studies are included in the Sage report, which instead quoted liberally from studies by Timothy Considine, whose work is funded by the gas industry, and the American Natural Gas Alliance.

For example, she says, the Sage report exaggerates the amount of gas locked in the Marcellus Shale, hiding in a footnote updated federal estimates that cut the anticipated yield by about 65 percent. She said workers at fracking sites are generally brought in from other states and move from site to site, so the Sage report also inflates the number of jobs. Those workers send a lot of their pay back home, so the local economic gains are also less than projected. She also has studied counties in Texas where fracking in the Barnett Shale has been in place for about a decade: “When you consider the number of people in poverty, the unemployment rate and median household income growth, gas intensive counties in Texas don’t appear to be doing well compared with the state as a whole.”

The Sage report also minimizes health threats from fracking, Barth says in her report. The Sage report doesn’t mention the chemicals used in fracking, the problems with disposal, or the “enormous potential health costs to the region if carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive chemicals contaminate water or land.” Also ignored in the Sage report, she says, are the costs from damage to roads and increased demand for social and emergency services and police. Possible declines in property values are also overlooked, as well as insurance companies’ reluctance to cover what Nationwide has called the “unique risks” from fracking.

She concludes that fracking will benefit “the gas industry and a few large landowners” but will “likely be at the expense of small communities and statewide taxpayers. The long-term net economic impact may be negative for the region. Marylanders should insist on a comprehensive, unbiased economic assessment prior to any decision” on allowing fracking in the state.

Paul Roberts, a Garrett County farmer and owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery, wrote this week in Appalachian Independent about Barth’s report as well as industry influence in Annapolis. Roberts, who is also co-founder of CitizenShale, a member of the governor’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and a former journalist, has worked relentlessly for more than two years to protect communities from the harms of shale gas development.

Money for fracking study: Gov. Martin O’Malley has included $1.5 million in his 2014 budget to study the effects of fracking in Maryland. The governor wants to allocate $1 million to examine the public health and ecological effects and $500,000 to establish baseline data for ground, surface water and air in Western Maryland. O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale study commission hasn’t been able to complete a thorough study because it lacked funding. Bills that would have raised money from the gas industry by setting a fee on leased land have failed to get out of a Senate committee. An article about the budget proposal is here.

Skirmish won in Myersville: Ann Marie Nau, a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, says the state Department of the Environment (MDE) wrote to the local group Jan. 17 that it would not issue the air quality permit for the compressor station in that Frederick County town. Read about MCRC’s battle against the pipeline that would carry fracked gas here and here. Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) maintains that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificate it received in December preempts local zoning, but MDE disagreed. State MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers wrote in the letter that state code “requires a permit applicant to submit documentation with the application demonstrating that the applicant’s project either has local zoning approval, or that it meets all applicable zoning and land use requirements. In the absence of such documentation, the Department is prohibited from processing the application.”

MCRC says “this does not mean that the fight is over. It is very likely that DTI will either challenge the state or the town to obtain the required [permit]. The only way to completely stop DTI from building the gas compressor station is to have the FERC Certificate revoked, at least the part that regards the gas compressor station in Myersville. This means that we have to continue to fight the FERC Certificate by submitting our ‘request the rehearing’ and potentially go to the Court of Appeals.”

Bold, cold action for the climate: In his inaugural address this week, President Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” He also said, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

So, we will need to lift our voices and be louder than the fossil fuels industry.

One step you can take is to contribute to help sponsor my polar bear plunge into the icy Potomac to Keep Winter Cold. This is Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s biggest fundraiser. Thanks to many wonderful friends and family, I’ve raised $850 so far. YAY. … If you can donate even a few dollars, here is my page. Only a few days left before the plunge.

Be there: Another step is to join other climate activists Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C., for what we hope will be the largest climate rally in history. We want to make Obama take action on global warming, starting with rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Sierra Club, 350.org and many other organizations are sponsoring this event. The rally is from noon to 4 p.m. (arrive by 11:30) and CCIHC will be carpooling. Information and sign-up is here. Email CCIHC about carpooling at HoCoClimateChange@gmail.org

elisabeth hoffman

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