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Among those blocking the entrances at FERC are, starting at second from left, Mike Bagdes-Canning, Ann Bristow and Gina Angiola.//photo by elisabeth hoffman

Among the 25 arrested for civil disobedience at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington this week was Ann Bristow, a member of Maryland’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission.

Also arrested was Gina Angiola of Olney, a retired doctor on the board of directors of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Another was a retired teacher and borough officer from Pennsylvania, Mike Bagdes-Canning, who last month traveled to Garrett County for the unveiling of the final progress report on Maryland’s health study on fracking. There, he issued a warning to Marylanders not to do what his state has done.

The civil disobedience came a day after Sunday’s spirited rally and march to FERC. The actions also followed a week of lunchtime picketing in front of FERC’s offices at the end of June.

“It is no longer business as usual,” said Steve Norris of North Carolina, who proposed the arrest action as a “punctuation mark” to the rally. He also dreamed up and helped organize the weeklong, 100-mile Walk for Our Grandchildren climate march last summer. “Usual will kill us all. It is time to be unreasonable.” (Of the 25 arrested, 15 had participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren or in the related arrest action at ERM, the State Department contractor tied to TransCanada that concluded the Keystone XL pipeline was just fine for the climate.)

Steve Norris and Kendall Hale

Steve Norris, as Uncle Sam, and Kendall Hare, as Lady Liberty, block an entrance at FERC. //photo by e. hoffman

The trigger for the protests was FERC’s full-of-holes preliminary approval of the plan by energy giant Dominion to liquefy and export fracked gas from its Cove Point terminal in Lusby. But the protests united groups fighting every stage of shale gas extraction and production: the fracking with secret toxic chemicals, the truck traffic and diesel-fired equipment, the radioactive waste that has no safe disposal, the flaring, the methane that leaks into water wells and disrupts the climate, the forests fractured and the land taken by eminent domain for pipelines, the noise and pollutants from compressor stations, the unthinkable hazards from the export factory. Those protesting came for their children and all children, for grandchildren and future generations, for rivers, mountains and farms, for people trapped by encroaching destruction, for clean water and air, for wolves, turtles and hawks.

wake up, FERC!

Monday morning, as he headed out to be arrested at FERC, Bagdes-Canning got 36 phone messages from people in the shale fields. “They are with us,” he told the others.

“In Cove Point, the people are also counting on you,” said Ted Glick, the national campaign coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), who helped organize the action. “And people around the world affected by climate change are counting on you.”

That morning, a few dozen people headed from Union Station to FERC’s offices, chanting “HERE WE COME, FERC” and “WAKE UP, FERC.” The pipelines and compressor stations FERC allows as a “public necessity and convenience” mean communities are gassed and fracked, they said. “As a public necessity and convenience, we are stopping FERC,” another protester from Pennsylvania shouted.

They sang, “No more frackers. We shall not be moved.” And “Stop the rubber-stamping. We shall not be moved.” And “Fighting for our future. We shall not be moved.”

alex and frack map

Alex Lotorto, blocking an entrance at FERC, shows a map of land leased for fracking in Bradford County, PA.//photo by e. hoffman

As he sat in front of FERC’s doors, Alex Lotorto spread out large maps covered with color-coded rectangles signifying drilling companies and land leased for fracking over much of Bradford County in northeast Pennsylvania. Shell, Chesapeake Energy, Talisman Energy, EOG Resources, Chief Oil & Gas, Southwestern Energy.

After a couple hours of constant maneuvering to try to block both entrances as well as driveways adjacent to the building, 25 activists were arrested. They were handcuffed, escorted a few hundred feet to an office for processing, fined $50 and allowed to leave.

Ann Bristow, the commissioner, said she took part in the arrest action because she has become increasingly alarmed about the threats to public health and the environment from fracking and the infrastructure required to produce and transport the gas headed for Cove Point. “I am protesting [the project] because its impact is being assessed without consideration of the negative health effects from the infrastructure that will supply it,” she said. “I am protesting FERC’s rubber-stamping of Cove Point because all aspects of [unconventional gas development] are connected when you consider public health and the health of our environment. I am protesting because I do not have confidence that the [Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the Department of the Environment (MDE)] will strongly advocate for public health monitoring for toxic air emissions.”

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Ann Bristow, a member of Maryland’s Marcellus shale advisory commission, is escorted from FERC in handcuffs.//photo by e. hoffman

Bristow joined the shale commission late, replacing a resigning member. As a volunteer with the state Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Marcellus Monitoring Coalition, Bristow arrived with a background in monitoring water quality. During the past two years, though, research in states that have allowed fracking is showing that air contamination — from compressor stations and condensate tanks and particularly from “wet gas” — could pose an even greater hazard, she said. Already, she said, the compressor station in Accident in Garrett County is processing and storing Marcellus gas from Pennsylvania; another is being built in Myersville, with a portion of the gas eventually headed for Cove Point. The state should “measure toxic air emissions at existing facilities … and measure air quality at Myersville before and after completion of the compressor station,” she said.

In a few months, based on recommendations from the 15-member advisory commission, MDE and DNR will send a report to the governor with conclusions about whether or how fracking could be done safely in Garrett and Allegany counties. Only four commissioners, including Bristow, have expressed abundant concerns and pressed for caution.

Gina Angiola, the retired physician arrested at FERC, is on the steering committee of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. If built, Cove Point would endanger thousands who live near the facility and increase fracking across the region, “further feeding our unsustainable fossil fuel addiction,” she said. “A few people will get wealthy, many more will be harmed.

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Gina Angiola is arrested at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

“It’s becoming ever more obvious that traditional channels of democratic participation simply aren’t working,” she said, “and we are running out of time. Although policymakers pretend that these issues are very complicated, they really are not. It’s all very simple at this stage. Climate change is happening NOW, people are dying or being displaced by the millions around the globe, regional conflicts are escalating, and the U.S. is failing to act rationally. Our scientists are telling us loudly and clearly that we must leave 75 to 80 percent of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic climate alterations. Why on earth are we allowing massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects to move forward? This is insanity.”

“If we would redirect our investments toward efficiency improvements and distributed renewable energy, we could lead a global transformation to an economy that serves everyone. I’m sick and tired of government agencies rubber-stamping bad ideas just to advance corporate profits. Those agencies are there to serve us, the people. If we can remind them of that mission, the Cove Point project will be stopped.”

fighting for existence

The day before the arrest action, nearly 2,000 people rallied at the U.S. Capitol and marched to FERC’s offices with the same message. They carried signs that said: “Don’t frack up our watershed,” “Don’t frack our towns for export profits.” On the stage, a group holding a giant cardboard yellow submarine with a giant rubber stamp sang, “We all know FERC’s a rubber-stamp machine” to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.”

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood looked to the future. We are on the way to stopping coal and the Keystone pipeline, he said, but if we export fracked gas, “then we are defeating our purpose.” He called the climate change battle this generation’s Birmingham and Montgomery. “Sometimes, you don’t see the transition,” he said. But in 2114, he said, “they will look back on this time. They will say, ‘Those are the ones who fought for us to exist.’ ”

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The marchers head for FERC. //photo by Beth Kemler at CCAN.

Biologist, author and fractivist Sandra Steingraber drew inspiration from past victories. Dryden, she said, was one of the first towns in New York to use zoning laws to ban fracking within its borders. “Lots of people warned the citizens of Dryden not to do it, pointing out that a local ban on fracking would only invite ruinous lawsuits by armies of industry lawyers,” she said. “All the citizens of Dryden had was sheer determination, a sense of their own righteousness and a willingness to do whatever it took,” Steingraber said. And on June 30, New York’s highest court ruled in the town’s favor. “Dryden beat Goliath with a slingshot made out of a zoning ordinance and so set a precedent that is now reverberating around the world.”

She said she spent the Fourth of July weekend with members of the Dryden Resource Awareness Council. There, they talked of tomatoes, grandchildren, recipes and arthritic knees and hips, she said. “Did you catch that? The people of Dryden, who brought the world’s largest industry to its knees, have arthritic knees. But they are motivated by love. Love for the place where they live and love for the people who will come after them. They feel a responsibility to protect what they love. Because that’s what love means,” she said.

More inspiration from the past: Forty years ago, residents in Rossville, NY, fought another seemingly long and impossible battle against storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tanks in their town. For 13 years, united as Bring Legal Action to Stop the Tanks (BLAST), Rossville residents “ignored the counsel of those who said that it couldn’t be done. That the tanks were already built. That of course they would be filled with LNG. That it was all inevitable. That you couldn’t fight the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But in the end, BLAST won,” Steingraber said. In part, it won because of an LNG explosion in 1973 that killed 40 people and led New York to ban LNG facilities. All the LNG hazards present in 1973 remain, Steingraber said, including that it will flash-freeze human skin and, if spilled, will disperse as a highly combustible vapor cloud and that an LNG fire is not extinguishable. Plus now we know about fracking and about climate change.

“We New Yorkers Against Fracking pledge our support, assistance and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Maryland who are fighting the LNG terminal in Cove Point. Our destinies are intertwined. Our success depends on yours,” she said.

The present consumes Rachel Heinhorst, whose family’s front lawn faces Dominion’s front lawn in Lusby. “We do not deserve to live in fear of an explosion, of the water we drink, of the air we breathe,” she told the crowd. “FERC and President Obama, please hear my family and all the others living so close to this. Feel our worry, know that it is real, know that we are coming to you, not looking for a fight. We are coming to you looking for compassion.” Her family, though, is preparing to move. If they can sell the house.

Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper, said the gas industry tries to divide people into those fighting climate change, compressor stations, fracking, export facilities. “We stand together,” he called out. “They have to fight all of us.”

Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising called FERC a lapdog to the president and the Democratic Party. “Being slightly better than Republicans on climate change is not enough,” he said. “We will not have that energy plan of ‘Frack here’ and ‘Frack there.’ ”

One prop for the rally and march was a large slingshot. “This has been a David and Goliath fight from the start,” said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We have been throwing stone after stone. We have more stones to throw.”

–by elisabeth hoffman

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Ann Bristow and Gina Angiola help block one of the entrances at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

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Ron Meservey and Diane Wittner, dressed as drill rigs, played a support role in the arrest action at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

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A Homeland Security officer warns protesters that they will be arrested if they don’t leave. //photo by Tom Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

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the cautious approach

April 18, 2014

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Mist on the mountains in unfractured Garrett County.//photo by Crede Calhoun

Maryland agencies that ignore studies linking fracking to explosive methane levels in water wells are on a par with climate-change deniers.

That’s according to a Duke University scientist who urged state regulators to take a “cautious” approach and protect people living near fracking wells with 1-kilometer buffers.

In their most recent updates to draft best practices, though, the agencies have not incorporated that safety zone.

Avner Vengosh, speaking this week via a Web hookup to members of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state regulators, explained and defended his research that shows that some water wells within a kilometer of fracking operations have dangerously high levels of explosive and flammable methane, propane and ethane. This fugitive gas contamination is unlike the trace amounts of methane found in most water wells outside the 1-kilometer (3,280 feet) radius. The stray gas contains ethane and propane, he said, and has a heavier isotopic fingerprint. He said it comes from leaking annuli or faulty casings around the drill, a persistent problem industry has long documented. Homes near these wells have had to find other sources of water, and even the suspicion of contamination has devalued homes, he said. The gas migration also indicates a pathway for future toxic contamination, said Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality.

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This industry diagram shows methane’s path through a leaky casing to the aquifer.

The Duke research is ongoing and the next study, in the review stage but soon to be published, he described as a “slam dunk.” The Duke scientists have published several studies about methane migration, each incorporating more well samples from northeast Pennsylvania. They also have studied the inadequate treatment and disposal of the radioactive and briny wastewater and surface contamination from leaks and spills.

Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the shale advisory commission, told Vengosh that state agencies, echoing the industry position, had rejected the 1-kilometer setback. They had determined that the Duke study, because it lacked baseline levels, failed to show conclusively that drilling had caused the methane contamination.

Vengosh said he found that “kind of insulting.” He compared that stance to climate change deniers. “So, if shale gas is totally safe … if that is what this commission believes, I would suggest that the commission have no setbacks at all. Why is 1,000 feet good and 3,000 bad? … If you believe in something or not is irrelevant,” he said. The data show “3,000 feet would be more protective.”

He labeled the recent clamor for baseline studies “a clever way” to question the environmental science and suggested it was driven by lawyers trying to defend industry in contamination lawsuits. The water wells outside the drilling areas indicate the background levels, he said. He collects baseline levels when possible, but he said scientists should not be held “hostage” to pressure for a baseline to determine stray gas or other contamination. No one asks for baseline comparisons on, for example, wastewater, sewage or road salt contamination, Vengosh said.

He also cautioned that research is just beginning and ”our knowledge is very limited,” which puts state regulators in the position of having to weigh industry-funded studies against academic studies. “If I were in your position, I would try to be as cautious as possible,” he said.

Commission Chairman David Vanko asked Vengosh whether the research showed a correlation between the contaminated water wells and whether the water source was up- or down-gradient from the gas well. (Up-gradient is the below-ground version of upwind or upstream.) But Vengosh said the Duke scientists had not detected “any patterns” on that. Gas, he said, flows vertically — up the channel created by the well.

At the meeting, state regulators outlined several setback revisions for the draft Best Management Practices. But they weren’t buying the 1-kilometer setback.

The standard setback for private wells would be 2,000 feet, up from 1,000 feet —but could be reduced to 1,000 feet if the driller showed, through a hydrological study, that the well pad was not up-gradient from the underground water source. Also, the setback from streams, rivers, seeps, springs, wetlands, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and 100-year floodplains would be 450 feet, up from 300 feet. Christine Conn, director of strategic land planning for the Department of Natural Resources, said the proposed setbacks are designed to reduce the risk of contamination from surface spills.

“The state is making a huge mistake,” said Roberts, who had long pressed for regulators to have a presentation from one of the Duke scientists. The 1,000-foot buffer, in particular, is based on regulations from the early 1990s before fracking in unconventional shales had begun, he said. The setbacks are “not protective in any way” and indicate state agencies’ refusal to accept the Duke findings, Roberts said.

“I object to that characterization,” Conn said. She said the agencies accept the study but disagree that the setback would be the “appropriate practice” to prevent methane contamination.

In a letter opposing a bill setting a minimum 1-kilometer distance between gas wells and drinking wells, however, the state Department of the Environment said its rationale was that “none of the published articles has shown a causal relationship between the gas wells and the measured [methane] concentrations.”

Commissioner Nick Weber of Trout Unlimited also endorsed larger buffers between drinking water and gas wells. “If you have this lack of data, then the precautionary principle or approach should be to embrace a broader protection area,” he said.

Commissioner Ann Bristow of the Savage River Watershed Association said the agencies should consider increasing the proposed 1,000-foot setback from occupied structures, such as homes and schools. Recent studies show air pollution could pose even greater harm than water contamination, she said. A 2012 study showed health risks significantly greater for residents living up to a half-mile (2,640 feet) from wells. And two studies have found fracking is bad for babies: A study in progress has found evidence of lower birth weights within 3.5 kilometers (11,482 feet) of a wellhead. A study not yet published but presented at the American Economic Association also found low birth weights and other health problems in babies born within 2.5 kilometers of fracking sites.

According to the commission’s timeline, air pollution is on the agenda for the May 16 meeting.

–elisabeth hoffman

HB 865 Setback Graphic.2A

Citizen Shale modified an EPA graphic to illustrate for legislators how the 1-kilometer buffer would protect private water wells. House Bill 865, which would have mandated that setback, didn’t get out of committee.

sounds of science

February 19, 2014

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My neighbor said he slept in for the first time in ages. That morning, our 15 inches of snow muffled the highway 500 feet behind his house, just beyond the stream and leafless stretch of woods. No cars drove in or out of our neighborhood. Venturing outside, we heard our shovels scraping, children sledding, birds chirping. That evening, with many side streets yet to be plowed, silence still reigned, broken only by footsteps, low voices of neighbors discussing inches fallen and inches to come.

If only we could muffle the industry spin to hear the voices of scientists on fracking. Science is quiet, methodical, cautious. So far, it has been no match for loud, overbearing, rash industry. Scientists collect water samples in drilling areas and find chemicals that disrupt hormone levels; they count birth defects in babies born in fracking areas; they note a decline in black-throated blue warblers and ovenbirds near drill pads; they tabulate the loss of core forests from well pad incursions. They are scrambling to measure and document the great unraveling around us and sound the alarm with PowerPoint presentations, laser pointers and conferences. It’s a tough slog.

Two scientists — Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University and Zacariah Hildenbrand from the University of Texas at Arlington — explained their research, via webinar presentations, to Maryland’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission last week. Ingraffea’s message: Gas wells are leaky. Fracked gas wells leak more than the old-fashioned wells. And as gas wells age, the likelihood increases that they will leak. In fact, he says, 13 percent of fracked wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale will leak in about two years. Hildenbrand found elevated levels of arsenic and other disturbing surprises in drinking-water wells near drilling areas.

Ingraffea has a PhD in rock fracture mechanics and was previously a consultant to and researcher for the oil and gas industry. Now he spends much of his time (when he’s not teaching classes) aggravating his former clients by talking about his research on “loss of structural integrity” in wells or “loss of zonal isolation” or “sustained casing pressure” or “bubbling in the cellar” or any of the other euphemisms the industry uses to hide one of its big problems: leaking wells.

He’s also president of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy, but the folks at industry’s Marcellus Drilling News call him a “fictional report writer” and “Tony the Entertainer.”

These wells, Ingraffea says, are leaking methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful over 20 years than CO2. This leaking methane also can contaminate water wells, sometimes leaving homeowners with flammable tap water. Or contaminate rivers and streams far from the well site.

His recommendation for Garrett and western Allegany counties, which overlie the Marcellus Shale: “If you are really concerned about well-water contamination, impose the largest setback that industry will tolerate.” Also, limit the number of wells — by keeping drilling far from residential and commercial areas and parks. Also require frequent inspections and more thorough inspection techniques: “You will have to enforce and inspect for the life of the well — forever,” Ingraffea said. Regulations are like the Ten Commandments, he said. They are “suggestions that don’t preclude things from going wrong.” Also, keep in mind that the ability to inspect a structure that bores underground for two or three miles “is very limited” and expensive — and the “ability to repair is limited.”

If Garrett and Allegany counties allowed drilling on 90 percent of land (with the rest off-limits because of restrictions, such as setbacks), they could see as many as 7,800 wells (assuming eight wells per acre on 977 acres) — and in five years, at least 780 could be expected to be leaking, he told the commission.

Ingraffea’s latest research was an effort to predict how often wells would leak. Industry research, webinars and conferences indicate a constant struggle with leaks. As he said on a TEDx talk similar to his presentation to the commission: “Industry continuously sponsors conferences and workshops on leaking wells while proclaiming to the public and especially to regulators that very few wells leak.” Ingraffea and his team read through 75,505 inspection reports on 27,455 gas wells in Pennsylvania since 2000. Those before 2009 are mostly conventional wells, drilled vertically; those after 2009 are mostly unconventional or “deviated” wells, which drill down and then horizontally for fracking. Marcellus wells are exclusively those unconventional wells. Ingraffea used a Cox proportional hazard model, for those who understand statistics, to make predictions about well leakiness. Some of his conclusions:

  • 13 percent of all Marcellus wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2009 will leak after only two years.
  • 45 percent of Marcellus wells drilled in northeast Pennsylvania since 2009 can be expected to fail after about six years.
  • Unconventional (Marcellus) wells are 58 percent more likely to leak than conventional wells.

Implicit in fracking is that industry will put multiple wells on each frack pad in order to drill in many directions — as many as 19 at one site in Pennsylvania, he said. But “having many wells drilled close together on a pad … puts additional stress on a well that’s been cased and cemented,” he said. And more drilling means more demand placed on crews and equipment. And much of the drilling, he said, is being done by people who come from areas where snow and hills are rare. “If I were in charge, I’d be very careful who I give a permit to,” he said. (Although, he said, he found no correlation between size of the operator and number of leaks.)

Marylanders will have to decide “what leak rate you are willing to tolerate. Multiply [that] by the number of wells you want. … And figure how many people you’ll allow to lose water,” he said.

He said he didn’t know yet whether wells drilled after 2011, when Pennsylvania increased some requirements, were faring better. But he said strengthening well casings, which separate the drill from the aquifer, “is not the first place I would have gone” — because a casing is also supposed to be pliable and not shrink or crack.

“My opinion is that most of the contamination in Pennsylvania is a direct result of drilling through the aquifer.” While puncturing that aquifer, “there is no casing.” That would explain the quick contamination, he said.

Next up, Hildenbrand presented his study of arsenic levels in well water in 100 homes in the Barnett Shale in Texas. He and two other researchers chipped in $5,000 each to do the peer-reviewed study, which was published in 2013 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. They went door-to-door asking for water samples, getting doors slammed in their face and even a gun pointed at them, Hildenbrand said. Of the 91 water samples from wells in active drilling area (within 5 kilometers of a drill site), 29 had levels of arsenic above the level deemed safe by federal regulators; none of the samples beyond 3 kilometers had elevated levels. They also found elevated levels of barium, selenium and strontium in active drilling areas.

Critics dismiss these cases as “outliers,” Hildenbrand said. “But every single data point matters … because people drink that water. It’s our … moral obligation to tell them they have high levels of arsenic.”

The larger the setback, the greater the protection for people and groundwater, he said. In the area of his research, the setback was 250 feet and people were fighting for 1,000 feet. “I could throw a golf ball into a drilling site from people’s back porch.”

This project was the researchers’ “weekend job,” he said, explaining the decision to use their own money. “Taking funding from environmentalists or industry wouldn’t change our science but would change the perception of our science.”

Hoping to drown out these scientists at the meeting was the merchant of doubt, namely Mike Parker of the American Petroleum Institute and retired from ExxonMobil’s fracturing group. Setbacks are “a touchy subject,” he said. The concern — for industry, that is — is that setbacks “unreasonably limit development.” He said, “2,000 [feet] with a lousy company is no better than 500 with a stellar one.”

The Hildenbrand study? “Not quite the slam dunk” and “this needs to be looked at with a skeptical eye. They seem to pose more questions than conclusions.”

Of Ingraffea’s study of failing wells? “Not all ‘failures’ are necessarily failures.” They are “merely operators reporting something they have to report.” Some reports of “integrity issues” he termed “quite misleading.”

Reports of groundwater contamination? “To a scenario, most of these seem very unlikely.” He also repeated the industry claim that reports of methane in water are not industry’s fault because “methane in groundwater occurs naturally.”

He clearly hadn’t gotten the word about the research David Bolton presented to the commission last month showing that methane levels in Garrett and Allegany counties are very low — for now.

The unwilling bystanders, should fracking be permitted in Maryland, are hearing the scientists, as well as the warnings from residents in fracked states. Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the state’s shale advisory panel, met with some of those bystanders in December. He told his fellow commissioners, “What I heard unequivocally is that right now, we all feel we ‘could lose the lottery’ and end up near one of these things. Farm families who have owned properties and mineral rights for generations might end up one mailbox down from a 40-acre fracking compound run by a Colorado-based contractor working for Chinese leaseholders drilling for gas to be shipped to Asia via Cove Point. Far-fetched? Well, it’s happening 50 miles away, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and if Cove Point gets built, that’s the closest exit point.” He said he will push for a state “superfund” law that would cover fracking and “require the industry responsible to fully fund” a remediation program.

Scientists count and measure to show the changes, large and small, that industry dismisses as anecdotal and unimportant. Study by painstaking study, they outline the harm and the risks that industry would silence, even as every few days of late another pipeline ruptures or explodes, or a frack pad fire rages. And Chevron makes amends with pizza coupons. Or Halliburton pays a fine that will not undo the damage of, say, hydrochloric acid in the river. And then the Pennsylvania State Police labels as terrorists those who would protect our life-support system. The words of Pete Seeger are coming to mind: When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”

Too risky:  CitizenShale and Chesapeake Climate Action Network released results from an independent risk analysis they commissioned by Ricardo-AEA. The European firm, which also led a fracking risk review for the European Commission, found a “high risk” of groundwater and surface water contamination; damage to water resources from excessive withdrawals; air pollution from gas flaring, pipeline leaks, compressors; noise; loss of biodiversity; damage to tourism from the industrial landscape; road hazards from traffic, accidents and spills. It also found a “very high risk” of loss of land to development.

–elisabeth hoffman

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.”

LOCAL%20Glade%20Run%20winter[1]

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.”

 

garrett falls

Falls along the Youghiogheny River in unfractured Garrett County.
//photo by Mike Bagdes-Canning of Marcellus Outreach Butler

Turns out Garrett and Allegany county residents can’t light their tap water on fire. Yet.

Contrary to conventional wisdom in Maryland’s westernmost counties, methane concentrations in the area’s well water are very low, according to a study presented this month to the state’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission. David W. Bolton, who is chief of the hydrogeology and hydrology program at the Maryland Geological Survey, has been studying well water samples in Garrett and the western part of Allegany for two years. In Maryland, these counties lie atop the Marcellus Shale that would be drilled for gas if the state were to proceed with fracking. (Counties in the eastern part of the state are on top of other shale formations.)

gasland photo of faucet

This image, from Josh Fox’s 2010 Gasland, showed a resident lighting his tap water on fire.

Methane levels are not regulated in drinking water, so little testing had been done, Bolton said. Methane mostly poses a problem if it builds up in a confined space, because it can burn, explode or displace oxygen, causing asphyxiation. The sputtering or spurting water can also interfere with well water pumps. But methane became a literal flash point when some residents near fracking wells in other states showed Josh Fox, in his movies Gasland 1 and 2, how they could ignite water from their kitchen faucets and streams — a chemistry experiment they said they had not been able to do before drilling began.

One counterintuitive argument fracking proponents have used in Maryland is that if methane migrates to the water, that’s not really a big deal or at least not news — because methane from coal extraction, the story goes, has already contaminated well water. So, Bolton embarked on a study of background levels of methane in Western Maryland, comparing well water from valleys and hills and areas in and outside of coal basins. He found that the concentration of dissolved methane in the water ranged from less than 1.5 to 8,550 micrograms per liter, all below the level at which the federal government recommends action to avoid explosions or asphyxiation — and most were far below. Of the 78 wells tested:

  • 44 (56 percent) had no detected methane (levels below 1.5 micrograms/liter).
  • 34 wells (44 percent) had levels above 1.5 microgram/liter.
  • Of those wells above 1.5 micrograms/liter, only four had levels exceeding 1,000 micrograms/liter.
  • No well exceeded 10,000 micrograms/liter (or 10 milligrams/liter), the level at which action should be taken. 

Although higher concentrations were in valleys and coal bed areas, he said, all levels were low.

In his search for samples with high levels, Bolton asked local Health Department officials if they knew of wells with methane problems and was directed to a home where pipes shook badly and a cap had blown off the well. That homeowner had fixed the problem, so Bolton went next door. That water had the highest concentration of methane: 8,550 micrograms/liter, still below the 10,000 micrograms where action is recommended.

Although he tried, Bolton said, he “never had anything light on fire.” A spokeswoman at the Garrett Health Department also said no one has ever reported being able to light tap water on fire.

Scientists at Duke University have run similar experiments in areas where fracking is under way. A team led by Drs. Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh, in studies published in 2011 and 2013, compared methane levels in 141 water wells, mostly in northeast Pennsylvania but a few in New York. The scientists found that water wells within 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) of one or more fracking sites had methane concentrations six times higher than those farther from drilling sites and that methane levels increased with proximity to a drill site. Ethane concentrations also were 23 times higher, and propane was detected in 10 wells within a kilometer of drilling operations. The highest level recorded was just under 70,000 micrograms/liter. Concentrations outside the 1-kilometer radius averaged 1,100 micrograms/liter.

Of Duke’s higher readings, Bolton said, “We didn’t get anywhere near that.”

So where does this methane come from?

  • Methane from decaying plants and animals, or biogenic methane, can get into ground and surface water. Bolton said, for example, that decaying leaves or a dead deer in the forest can send methane traces into streams or well water.
  • Methane deep underground comes from the long-decayed plant material (coal) or from the pressurized remains of animals that walked the Earth eons ago (oil and gas). And scientists can date this thermogenic methane, determining whether, for example, it’s from coal, the Devonian layers or deeper Marcellus Shale.

The Duke scientists found that all of the water wells with methane concentrations greater than 10,000 micrograms/liter had “signatures consistent with thermogenic natural gas.” Because of the isotopic fingerprint, they concluded that the methane and ethane migrated to the water through “faulty or inadequate steel casings” or “imperfections in the cement sealings,” which are designed to keep the gas and fracking fluid from leaking into the environment. (They note that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 90 notices of violations for faulty casings and cementings on 64 Marcellus Shale wells in 2010, and 119 similar notices in 2011.) Other research on casings has determined that “cement failure is ubiquitous, chronic and well-known” and that unconventional fracked wells (those that drill vertically and then turn at an angle — the sort that has created all this controversy) are more likely to fail and leak over time than conventional wells.

Bolton said his findings indicate that “thermal maturity of methane we tested [in Maryland] was less than Marcellus in Pennsylvania” and that background levels of methane are relatively low.

In other words, if Maryland decides to proceed with fracking and residents are then able to light their tap water on fire, we will all know why. And coal won’t be to blame. Bolton phrases it this way: “People would ask legitimately if newly drilled wells were the source.”

Bolton plans to publish his study for peer review in the Maryland Geological Survey by late spring. He hopes to test a few more wells, particularly near Accident, in Garrett, where conventional gas drilling took place and where gas is still stored. But Bolton said that “with the funds available,” the survey was representative of the area: “We tried to get a good geographic distribution … and different geologic settings.”

Commission Chairman David Vanko suggested that drillers be required to determine the isotopic fingerprint of any methane exceeding 10,000 micrograms/liter. The test costs about $200. The commission’s citizen representative, Paul Roberts, snowed in in Friendsville, gave a quick second on the conference call line. (Under the state’s proposed best management practices, companies would also have to collect two years of baseline data on underground drinking water, surface water and ecological resources. )

Bolton said the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has asked him to review the Jackson methane research. At this point, he is not “sure if that was enough to nail that down.” He wanted to see on a graph methane levels in relation to the distance from valleys as well as from wells. The Duke scientists said in their research that statistical analysis showed distance from valleys had an insignificant bearing on the methane levels, but Bolton said he wanted to see the data: “It could be the higher levels were closer to wells and closer to valleys.” (At Roberts’ urging, MDE policy director Brigid Kenney agreed to ask Drs. Jackson and Vingosh to make a presentation to the commission.)

In part because of the Duke study, Roberts and others have been urging MDE and the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to increase the recommended buffer to 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) between drilling sites and private water wells and other structures. In his comments on the draft best practices, Roberts said, “In the face of credible scientific research supporting a minimum 3,300-foot setback, the administration should explain why it disagrees with that science. Until then, the setbacks as proposed are highly suspect.”

The draft report on best practices set a number of setbacks, including 1,000 feet from the borehole to private groundwater wells or occupied buildings, such as a school or church; 2,000 feet to public groundwater wells or water intakes; and a mere 300 feet from the edge of the drill disturbance area to streams, rivers, wetlands, trails and parkland.

Asked about the state’s recommended setbacks, Bolton said in a phone conversation that he was involved with science, not regulatory policy, and that more data are needed. Nevertheless, “if the state wants to be cautious, they should have a larger setback,” he said.

Unless Maryland officials are just going through the motions, with health, economic and other studies, a decision on fracking here is still a ways off. (And pressure to frack would increase exponentially if Dominion gets permission to export liquefied fracked gas from expanded facilities at Cove Point.) Western Maryland, though, is still mopping up from the coal industry’s incursion. By the 1960s, 120,000 pounds — that’s 60 tons — of acidic water drained every day from abandoned coal mines into the North Branch Potomac River, leaving the water “biologically dead for many decades,” according to the Maryland DNR. Adding lime from “dosers” to the river’s tributaries in Garrett and Allegany counties, which costs $321,000 a year, is neutralizing the acid, making it healthy for brook trout and other aquatic life as well as recreational businesses that bring in an estimated $3 million in economic benefits a year to the area. Clean water is good for business.

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Water bottles filled a store aisle in West Virginia at the height of the crisis.
//photo by Foo Conner @iwasaround

Another fossil-fueled water crisis is ongoing in West Virginia, where a toxic chemical for cleaning coal oozed into the Elk River and then the tap water of 300,000 people in Charleston and surrounding communities. The intake pipe for privately owned American Water was a mile downstream from Freedom Chemical’s huge tanks of unregulated and, it turns out, leaking toxic chemicals. Already, the chemical company has declared bankruptcy and moved to shift blame to the water company for not closing the intake valve. Days into the crisis, Freedom Chemical disclosed that a second chemical compound had leaked. It kept the identity of that chemical secret, for proprietary reasons, a loophole familiar to fracking companies and people with mysterious ailments. The state declared the water safe, but then said pregnant women and perhaps children should not drink it. And then the governor told residents they would just have to decide for themselves whether the water is safe to drink.

This time will be different, the fracking industry insists. Maryland will have the toughest regulations. And, if mistakes are made, Jeffrey Kupfer, the Chevron representative on the state’s advisory commission, has said that “lots of alternatives” exist for replacing contaminated well water. Which seems like a dishonest and cavalier way to talk about other people’s water. And as the West Virginia tragedy points out, the line between public (or privatized) and private water can be thin. Both are vulnerable to wandering toxic chemicals.

Over the weekend, the WVWaterCrisis Solidarity group was to deliver its second truckload of water and other supplies donated from the DC and Maryland area. Other groups have made similar runs. Perhaps 10, 20, 30 years from now, fracked states will be pleading for clean water. About 75 percent of the fracking fluid remains underground for the ages, mixing with the radium, benzene, brine and all the rest below. When the toxic and proprietary soup blasted into the well hole eventually reaches aquifers through crumbling concrete and new fissures, we could be West Virginians, searching for clean water. If any remains. And the drilling companies, like their coal brethren before them, will be long gone.

–elisabeth hoffman

 

age of stupid image

The movie ‘The Age of Stupid’ shows the fate of Las Vegas and the world in 2055 if we do nothing to stop climate change. // photo from ‘The Age of Stupid’

So, we’re still here. The Mayans weren’t signaling an end of the world, only an end to an era.

On the other hand, that means we are not off the hook on climate change, which could hasten the end of the world as we know it.

To close out the year, here’s a list in no particular order of  the top 10 warning signals. … Well, I don’t know if they are the top 10, but they are 10 that sure alarmed me. Feel free to add reports you’ve seen in the comments:

1. A report commissioned by the World Bank outlines the severe effects from a 4-degree-Celsius temperature rise even if countries meet current pledges to cut emissions. If they fail that, the results would be even worse. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said: “This report is a sobering look at what a 4-degree-Celsius warmer world would look like. There would be massive disruption in some of our most basic systems—water supply, the viability of coastal cities, entire populations that live in low-lying areas. But moreover, it has implications for disaster risk management. It has implications for food supply. And most importantly for us, the worst impacts are going to happen in the poorest countries, to the poorest people.” Read the World Bank report here or Amy Goodman’s segment on the report here.

2. Last month, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gas emission in 2011 broke all records. “Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on our climate—because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping, long-lived gases,” the report said. The report also said that methane in the atmosphere reached “a new high of about 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, or 259% of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources.” Although methane levels had been leveling off, since 2007 they have been on the rise again. (That is also the time frame for the boom in fracking, but the report doesn’t list a cause). Methane lasts about a dozen years in the atmosphere, compared with 100 years for CO2, but it holds far more heat-trapping gases while there. Compared over 100 years, it’s 21 times worse for the climate than CO2; compared over 20 years, it’s 72 times worse.

3. The U.N. Environment Program reported last month that keeping global warming to 2 degrees C this century, which nations around the world agreed was the safe level, is increasingly unlikely. Its Emissions Gap Report said that instead of declining, “total greenhouse gas emissions have risen from around 40 [gigatons] in 2000 to an estimated 50.1 Gt in 2010.” This report brings a new twist on the admonition to “mind the gap.” At this rate, global temperatures could rise a very uncomfortable 3 to 5 degrees C (or 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, the report said.
4. A University of Pennsylvania study has found that sea levels worldwide are rising 60 percent faster than was anticipated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, the German oceanographer and climatologist who led the study. “That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.” Reports on the study are here and here.

5. NOAA’s Arctic Report Card reported a “rare, nearly ice-sheet-wide [surface] melt” of Greenland’s glacier this summer. The annual melt season was also the longest on record. When Greenland surface ice thaws, it reflects less sunlight, which in turn accelerates warming.

6. Arctic sea ice also hit a record low this summer. “The last six years have the six smallest minimum extents since satellite observations began in 1979,” the Arctic Report Card said. NOAA’s Climate Watch magazine also notes the loss of old, thick ice and the prevalence of young, salty new ice that is more prone to melting.

7.  A study in the journal Science shows the world’s biggest, oldest trees are dying off at an alarming rate from a combination of climate change (heat, drought, forest fires) , logging, land clearing, disease and insect attacks (also linked to warming). The New York Times has a report here.  Nate McDowell, a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico studies tree deaths.

8. The 1990 predictions from climate scientists for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have proved quite accurate, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change. They are not making this stuff up — or exaggerating.

9. “Every year counts,” according to Thomas Stocker, a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, in a paper in the journal Science in November. “I am a fundamentally optimistic person, but it is getting more and more difficult, because I see the message of science has not fundamentally changed from when I started working in this field, which was 20 years ago.” he told LiveScience.com.

10. Biodiversity and ecosystems are already in trouble because of climate change, according to a report led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The report lists population declines, a shift in where species range, localized extinctions (those species that can’t shift are the ones facing extinction), “interactions among species that have not existed in the past,” and “mismatches” of timing and distribution of plants and animals. For example, pollinators arrive after plants have bloomed, oceans are too warm for fish eggs to survive or plants emerge too soon for young caribou to survive. Common Dreams wrote about the study here.

Other signs of climate disruption abound (record drought, record low water levels on the Mississippi River, record forest fires, record damage from storms, projections of food shortages……).  As Lester Brown said at Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s recent Drilling Down conference, “Time is our scarcest resource.”

–elisabeth hoffman

 

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Waters rise around the last house on Holland Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
The house eventually sank in October 2010, victim of rising seas and subsiding land.
//Photo from Critter Sitters Blog.

Maryland has a draft plan to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, and you can learn more about it and make comments at a public hearing tomorrow in Annapolis or June 5 in Baltimore. The plan outlines a number of strategies designed to reduce the state’s emissions 25 percent by 2020 from 2006 levels. The final plan is due in December.

The draft reviews the science behind climate change and tells why we should care, noting that Maryland’s long coastline makes it particularly vulnerable to rising seas and storms. It also explains that proceeding now is important, because waiting will make reductions more expensive. The draft plan says that Maryland “is responsible for nearly as many GHG emissions as Sweden and Norway combined.” The state’s emissions increased by about 18 percent from 1990 to 2005, which was a faster rate than the rate for the rest of the country (about 16 percent)  The report also says the greenhouse gas emissions per Maryland resident also increased at a time when per capita emissions in the United States as a whole decreased.

State officials are explaining the plan and taking questions and comments at these public hearings:

May 31, 6 – 8 p.m., Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, C1 Conference Room (info: 1-877-620-8367);  and
June 5, 6 – 8 p.m., Maryland Dept. of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, First floor-Aqua & Terra Conference Rooms. (info: 410-537-3240)

Officials have said they are also willing to set up more hearings, so CCIHC is trying to set one up in Columbia.

One question might be whether this plan is ambitious enough? The plan mentions a worldwide goal of reducing GHG emissions to “stay within the 445 to 490 parts per million CO2-equivalent range.”  How comfortable will the planet at those levels?

The plan has charts indicating that methane is about 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 (pgs 25 and 61).  Current emissions are mostly from CO2, but if the state allows fracking, will methane emissions pose a problem? The plan also emphasizes the importance of protecting forests as carbon sinks (pg 337) and preventing habitat loss and fragmentation. Fracking, though,would involve chopping up Garrett County into 5-acre parcels even though it contains the valuable “Targeted Ecological Areas” mentioned in the plan. Again, any moves toward fracking would seem counterproductive.

The plan underscores the importance of moving ahead with wind energy as well. Maryland is a net importer of electricity, the largest chunk of GHG emissions are from electricity ( 39%),  and most in-state electricity is from coal, according to the plan. (p 62 and 68)

This might also be a good time to emphasize that waste incineration should be removed from the list of Tier 1 renewable energy sources. The plan says that  “Waste combustion (also known as incineration) is currently the greatest contributor to these emissions and is projected to remain that way for the foreseeable future.” (p 77)

A few more facts:

Maryland’s 2006 baseline GHG emissions =  95.14 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent.

25% reduction from that level  = 23.785 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent.

So goal is is to reach 71.355 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent (95.14 minus 23.785).

If we do nothing, the state is forecast to reach  128.30 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent, which would be a 34.9% increase over the 2006.

That leaves the state with a target of cutting 56.94 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent. (That is the total with no plan, 128.30, minus where we want to be, 71.36)