March 14, 2013
So, we are taking stock. On the downside: The fracking moratorium legislation for Maryland fell one vote short of getting out of its Senate committee during this General Assembly session.
On the plus side: The Senate committee at least voted. And the vote was sooo close.
And, we are not going away. Or giving up.
That was the message from more than 100 concerned Marylanders at yesterday’s rally in front of the State House in Annapolis. In the pointed words of Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s director, we told legislators: You had better “get to work” to protect communities, the environment and the climate from fracking.
The rally, organized by CCAN, included parents and grandparents, college and high school students and teachers (including a group from Glenelg Country School in Howard County), a couple of babies in backpacks and strollers, nurses and other activists, and Western Maryland residents who live in areas that would be drilled or where natural gas compressor stations are planned.
One of the biggest lessons of the day, though, came from Lois Gibbs, who organized her Love Canal neighbors in the late 1970s when toxic waste buried under their homes and schools started making people sick.
To the crowd at the rally, Gibbs said: “We did not win because we were right. Although we were right. We did not win because we were sick. Although we were sick. We did not win because we had legal rights. Although we had some rights. . . . We won because of people like you.” Science alone is not enough, she said. These will be political battles.
Toxic waste buried in the soil under Love Canal wasn’t supposed to move. But it did, and so will the fracking fluid, she said. “Do not go down this road with blinders on,” Gibbs said.
In Love Canal, 56 percent of children were born with birth defects, Gibbs said. They had extra fingers and toes, for example, or mental retardation, she said.
All the assurances from the natural gas industry that the fracking fluid will never cross into the water table are “hogwash,” she said. As executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Gibbs said she has traveled to communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Wyoming where drilling is happening. She has seen mothers who can’t bathe their children in the tap water and neighbors who have to raise money to bring public water lines to houses. While the industry makes millions.
“Fracking will kill the environment,” she said. More studies are needed, she said, “so that you don’t end up like the families at Love Canal.”
Also urging the crowd to press on was Garrett County resident Eric Robison, the owner of Eagle Rock Construction and a co-founder of CitizenShale. He said he was heartened by the size of the crowd because three years ago he and just a few others were sitting around a table trying to figure out what to do about the fracking wave headed for their community.
He said the state needs a legislative moratorium to have time to finish the studies called for in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2011 executive order. Although O’Malley has included $1.5 million in the next budget for the studies, he said, Environment Secretary Robert Summers has said neither the time nor the money is likely to be sufficient to complete the studies by the time the governor’s executive order expires in 2014.
After the rally, Robison, who is a contractor, said part of the reason he entered this fray is because he works with concrete daily. And concrete fails. Sometimes right away, sometimes years down the road. But it always fails. In fracking, a concrete casing forms the protective barrier between water aquifers and the steel casing that carries the hazardous fracking fluid.
Matia Vanderbilt, also a co-founder of CitizenShale, spoke at the rally a little more than a week after returning from the Frack Attack National Summit in Texas. “We are a piece of the puzzle,” she said, and must demand that legislators “put Marylanders first.”
The legislature “dropped the ball” this year, she said, but the defeat is a “small setback” and we can’t give up. Once the executive order expires, “we are completely vulnerable.”
Vanderbilt, who has lived in Western Maryland for 30 years, said she and others from Garrett County are fighting to protect water, children, farms and businesses. She talked about kayaking, swimming and hiking in the region and encouraged everyone to visit.
“When you come [to Garrett County], you will see why we fight,” she said.
Next up: Environment Maryland, Food & Water Watch, CCAN and other groups are co-sponsoring a panel in Annapolis of landowners, farmers and others living with fracking in Pennsylvania. The event is Monday, March 18, at the House of Delegates building, Room 318, starting at 6 p.m. Speakers include: Rep. Jesse White (D), Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 46th District, (invited); Ralph Kisberg, president of Responsible Drilling Alliance, Williamsport, Pa., Margaret Henry, pig farmer from Lawrence County, Pa., and David Headley, landowner with drilling wells on his property in Smithfield, Pa.
—by elisabeth hoffman