cows in garrett

Cows graze along Old Morgantown Road outside of Friendsville in Garrett County, near land leased by Chevron for a compressor station and multiwell drilling pad. //photo by Crede Calhoun

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 dhmh.envhealth@maryland.gov. Citizen Shale offers guidance on making comments is here.)

health summary

The state’s fracking health study evaluated the likelihood of public health hazards in eight categories.

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.

–elisabeth hoffman

gabe

A clown outside the Frostburg Lyric Theater offered “complimentary*” frack water lemonade before the state’s monthly shale advisory commission meeting. The fine print says: * will actually cost you your home, your water, your health, your mountains, and your land. Also might kill you : )

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Protesters show off one of the many creative signs along the People’s Climate March. This one is a call to Dethrone King CONG: Coal Oil Nuclear and Gas.

“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.

IMG_1855Gathering 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 coalFracking 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.

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Children learned the shape of the potent climate-changing methane molecule while waiting for the anti-fracking contingent to begin marching.

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.

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Tracey Eno helps carry the mock LNG tanker through the streets of Manhattan.

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We don’t want to create more sacrifice zones while pretending to lower emissions.

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:  dhmh.envhealth@maryland.gov 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.

–elisabeth hoffman

youth contingent

The youth contingent, at least 50,000 strong, led the march. //photo by Shadia Fayne Wood of Project Survival Media (from 350.org Facebook page)

devil signs

The devil we’ve come to know: fracking. //photo by United for Action

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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.

–elisabeth hoffman