saving mountain maryland

February 15, 2014

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A section of vineyards in fall at Deep Creek Cellars in Garrett County.

Nadine Grabania owns a farm and winery in Friendsville in Garrett County with her husband, Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission. Nadine is a member of a county shale study panel and a founding member of CitizenShale. Nadine gave the following remarks Tuesday at the 20th annual Environmental Legislative Summit sponsored by the Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment. — elisabeth hoffman

By NADINE GRABANIA

Hi, my name is Nadine Grabania. I live in Garrett County where I own a small farm and winery. Tonight I want to tell you why I care about the environment and how — let’s get the F-word out of the way — Fracking — will change communities across our state.  I ask you to join me — and our state’s environmental leaders — to pass the Shale Gas Drilling Safety Review Act of 2014 — it’s our only way to ensure that Maryland’s lawmakers and citizens can make an informed choice on whether to frack Maryland.

Since I was old enough to explore the forest behind my childhood home in the suburbs of southwestern Pennsylvania, I’ve cared for the natural world.  So it’s an honor to be a guest of Maryland’s environmental community tonight. To all of you who give your time to protect our shared resources: Thank you!

Shortly after my husband and I became parents, we left established careers: his in journalism; mine, as an art museum curator. We wanted to simplify our lives and start our own business, in a safe, quiet place far from polluted air that aggravates my asthma.

Our tiny plot of land has all we need for this simple life: a good water well, room to grow fruit trees, an organic garden, and grapes. The area is not merely picturesque; there is a fresh-ness about the place because it has pretty much escaped development. These qualities draw a lot of people to visit, to invest in, to retire in, to escape to my county. If you’ve ever been to Mountain Maryland, you know. It’s a charmed place.

But three years ago, life stopped being simple. Chevron was seeking to drill one of Maryland’s first fracking wells just over the hill. From that moment, we started asking questions and have never stopped.

Questions like:

“How many trucks will go by our home at all hours to get to this well site? What will they be carrying?  How will this affect livestock? And children? This is how close to the Youghiogheny River?”

Economic questions like:

“How will new local jobs be created, when crews are working for the same companies over the state line in West Virginia and Pennsylvania? Who will visit if our farms and forests become industrial sites?”

“What will my property be worth if a compressor station is built in my neighbor’s field?”

And elemental questions:

“What will be emitted into the air? Will I be trapped here and unable to breathe?”  And of course: “What happens if my water is contaminated?”

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This photo looks west into the Glade Run valley. The drilling lease for the land under the barn has expired, for now. Deep Creek Cellars’ land is in the foreground.

Our questions led us to others in our county’s agri-tourism, construction, and real estate sectors who were concerned about fracking. Our economy relies heavily upon tourism dollars and property taxes on vacation homes. Yet, local and state officials dismissed our concerns outright.

When people started coming to us for answers, we formed CitizenShale to educate about the full impacts of industrial gas development, and to work for adequate protections should fracking occur.  Rowing in the opposite direction from our local elected officials gave CitizenShale’s founders free lessons in democracy school: If no one stands up to ask tough questions, citizens must do it. If no one “in charge” seems willing to address a problem, citizens must confront it.

Thankfully, a legislator from across the state — our dear friend Del. Heather Mizeur — agreed to introduce a moratorium bill in the 2011 session. Delegate Mizeur understood early that fracking is not just a western Maryland issue.

Now it’s 2014, and gas companies from Texas are leasing land across the Potomac in Virginia, to frack the Taylorsville Basin. It’s beneath our feet. Suddenly fracking could happen near many more of us.

Last month, three different DC metro water authorities told the [U.S.] Forest Service that fracking in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest could threaten the Potomac — and the water supply for the nation’s capital. Mountain Maryland sends water into the Potomac’s North Branch. For Marylanders who get their water from the Potomac, fracking “elsewhere” in Maryland could harm your water. And we do not want to send anything bad to the Bay.

And, as Mike Tidwell told us, if Dominion receives permission to export LNG from Cove Point, communities across our state could face development of pipelines and compressor stations to move fracked gas to Asia. When someone wants to build a pipeline in your neighborhood, a federal regulator rubber stamps the location. Currently no program exists to inspect the miles of pipeline that would result from transmission of fracked gas in our state.

When Governor O’Malley issued his 2011 Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Commission and current study period, he gave us a chance that is unique in the nation. No other state has been able to so thoroughly study this issue before taking action, and we must get this right.

And in some ways, we are. One of the studies mandated by the Safe Drilling Initiative was an analysis of Dissolved Methane Concentrations in well water. My family — and the State of Maryland — now has proof that, today, our well water contains no methane. The “vast majority” of local wells sampled did not exhibit significant methane concentrations. Not only do we have beginning baseline data, but also the public record is clear: Our water is worth protecting!

Other important information has been produced in three years of Commission work. The study of Public Health is moving forward. And, due in part to pressure from the coalition of organizations working on this issue, the state is conducting a risk assessment of fracking’s potential impacts, while a second, parallel assessment has been commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CitizenShale.

The study period has given us time to learn more from research and experiences elsewhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report found methane to be an even more potent greenhouse gas than previously understood: 84 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years, and 28 times more potent over 100 years.

We now have data from the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment confirming, in its own violation reports, casing failure rates of up to 7.2% within the first year a well is drilled. 14,394 households in my county rely on water wells for drinking water.  So if we drill for gas in Maryland, 1 of the first 14 wells will experience methane migration — or worse — due to casing failure.

Also from Pennsylvania today: You may have heard that today a Chevron gas well exploded in Greene County. This is one hour from Garrett County. Twenty workers were on-site; unfortunately one did not survive.

Watching Pennsylvania’s experience has also shown us how the opinions of the courts have evolved in a state with active drilling. Last December in an opinion issued by a bipartisan majority, the PA Supreme Court wrote some stunning words. They said: “By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”

Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order expires in August 2014, which is the deadline for state agencies to complete their studies.

When that deadline arrives, the studies will wrap up and the commission will have 60 days to consider the information and draw final conclusions. Will we know all we need to know? Do we have adequate time to understand the issues? Are we comfortable with essentially leaving this decision up to the governor — either our current governor or the next one — with no input from the public or the General Assembly?

Shouldn’t the legislature be given the opportunity to delve into the information collected by the state — especially since it’s certainly not clear that fracking can proceed in Maryland without posing unacceptable risk?

If legislators do not intervene now, Maryland communities like mine will lack any legal protections come August — regardless of the commission’s findings. And the state could feasibly issue drilling permits by the time the General Assembly reconvenes in 2015. The Shale Gas Drilling and Safety Review act will ensure we get all the facts on the table so that public and legislators alike have a chance to respond.  Whether or not fracking poses unacceptable risks to Marylanders is a question that should be answered by all Marylanders. The process should be transparent.

This is our last chance to put our figurative stake in the ground, before the gas industry drives real ones into Maryland soil, staking its claim to Maryland’s resources.

These are life-changing questions: Will we choose to value shale gas over the health of our communities? Should we gamble the safety of our air and water on a get-rich-quick scheme?

The people who live atop Maryland’s gas basins must set our hopes on making wise choices. We need to do this. My mountain neighbors want to invite you to visit with this slogan, courtesy of my friend Crede Calhoun: “Come to mountain Maryland. We saved it for you.”

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Glade Run valley is in the corner of the state. Glade Run’s headwaters are in a watershed that straddles the state line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Nadine says of this spot at the bottom of their hill: “The healthy ecosystem supports all sorts of critters. We’ve seen blue heron, hawks, native brook trout, deer, an amazing population of snails crossing the road in spring, mink, fishers and a muskrat pair. The peeper chorus in the spring enlivens our evenings and tells us winter is over. … It’s a remote place that is in the center of the symbolic universe of places that merit protection from fracking.”

 

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2 Responses to “saving mountain maryland”

  1. That’s pretty powerful testimony.

  2. herdering said

    Thank you! Wish I could have heard this in person.

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