November 13, 2014
In Western Maryland last week, the Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state officials scrambled to finish reviewing three years of studies on whether to proceed with fracking in Maryland.
The election the night before, though, shifted the landscape utterly. The few commissioners who have consistently raised concerns about fracking in Maryland recognized that whatever safeguards were in the works, insufficient though they might be, could be dismissed by the newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan. What the science was starting to show about the health, economic and environmental hazards for the many could be ignored for quick profit for a few.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the state and in Washington, DC, a week of peaceful and bold protests was under way, showing what people will resort to when their fears are ignored, their lives disrupted, their communities shattered, and their remaining choices few.
As part of a week of actions called Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), determined protesters headed for Cove Point and briefly took over a dirt hill where Dominion is building a pier for a fracked-gas export facility. Another protester locked herself to Dominion equipment at a predawn sit-in. In Washington, BXE activists blocked entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the mostly invisible and always intractable agency that rubberstamps pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities and is therefore the chief patron of the fracked-gas industry. The industry — and industry-bought politicians — have promoted fracked gas as clean energy and a solution to climate change when science and experience shows it is neither.
In all, about 80 people were arrested over five days in Washington and Cove Point. Some protesters had just finished walking across the country as part of the Great March for Climate Action. In addition, 15 people were arrested blocking a FERC-approved gas storage facility in salt caverns on Seneca Lake, NY.
On Monday, protesters blocked the main entrance with giant photographs of Rachel Heinhorst and her family, who live across the street from Dominion’s Cove Point front gate, and the Baum family, who live near a giant compressor station for fracked gas in Minisink, NY. In front of the portraits was a small town of shops and homes, schools and parks. Homeland Security officers guarding FERC offices eventually pulled apart this little village, much as FERC destroys communities with its rulings.
On Friday, the final day of the protests, residents of the Pennsylvania shalefields told tearful yet angry stories to FERC staff who were blocked from their offices and who had gathered on the sidewalk to watch police cut out five activists linked by lockboxes. “You have no right to poison people,” said 61-year-old Maggie Henry, who was labeled an ecoterrorist in an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force report. Her family’s 88-acre organic farm, mentioned in a 2009 New York Times article, is surrounded by the fracking industry. A mile away is a cryogenics plant; 4,100 feet away is a frack pad; a fracked-gas pipeline skirts the land, a gas-fired power plant is being built a few miles away. Four homes three miles away have replacement water tanks: “Water buffaloes dot the Pennsylvania landscape like lawn ornaments,” she said. An earthquake in March from nearby fracking damaged her home’s foundation and cracked the drywall. That farmhouse, which has been in her husband’s family for 100 years, sits empty and she is searching for land elsewhere. “I don’t have the nerve to tell people [the food] is organic,” she said, because of the nearby emissions of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine-disrupters such as toluene, ethylene, butylethylene.
Penni Laine of Summit Township told a similar story: Her tap water can ignite, and she has an air monitor in her house. On a good day, she said, her daughter can say, “Yay, Mom, the air is ‘unhealthy’ today. It’s not ‘hazardous.’ ”
“We are living now in a war zone,” said Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania who writes the impatient and scathing blog, The Wrench, about the fracking industry’s devastating occupation of her state. Trooper Mike Hutson with the Pennsylvania State Police/FBI Joint Ecoterrorism Task Force once showed up uninvited at her door. “FERC does not listen. FERC does not care. FERC needs to be disbanded. FERC needs to be dissolved,” she told the FERC crowd. “FERC exists to broker permits [for Chevron, Anadarko, Exco, Williams Partners and others]. FERC does not do anything but the bidding of big industry.”
A giant poster at the FERC action shows an empty swing with three frack towers rising in the background. Another showed a map of schools and frack sites and asked: “Our children are at risk. Would you send you kids to these schools?”
BXE protesters called on FERC to repeal permits for the Cove Point export plant, the Myersville and Minisink compressor stations, and the Seneca Lake salt-cavern storage facility; to halt future permits for fracked-gas infrastructure; and to consider as a priority the rights of human beings and all life on Earth.
Back at the Eastern Garrett Volunteer fire hall in Finzel, members of the shale advisory commission were reviewing the last three studies, all done by the staff at the state Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources: a 241-page risk analysis, a 7-page traffic study and a climate study that barely runs over onto a fourth page.
Notable about the risk study is what it doesn’t cover: risks from downstream infrastructure (such as export plants and gas lines). The risk study doesn’t say one way or the other whether fracking can be done without “unacceptable” risks, the benchmark Gov. Martin O’Malley set in the executive order that put the commission and studies in motion. And the study says more monitoring and modeling would be needed to understand the cumulative and synergistic effects of fracking on air quality in Garrett County and the rest of the state. The overall probability of air emissions is high, the report says, while the “consequences cannot be determined at this time” because of a lot of unknowns. (Appendix B, p. 44) (Comments on the risk study, due Nov. 17, should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Risk Assessment” in the subject line.)
The greatest risks to humans, the report concludes, would be from truck traffic and accidents, noise, and methane migration to water wells. The last of those perils, the report says, could be reduced to a low risk if fracking operations are at least 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) from drinking water sources. (The state’s best practices propose a 2,000-foot setback from drinking water sources, with reductions allowed under some circumstances.) The greatest threats to the environment are from fragmenting forests and farms, and “subsurface releases or migration” — underground leaks — of frack fluid and frack waste. All the risk levels assigned assume that the state’s best management practices will be in place and enforced.
“We don’t know what the level of enforcement is going to be, we don’t know how many staff are going to be hired,” said Matthew Rowe, the MDE deputy director of the Science Services Administration who led the study.
“There’s no way you can verify and enforce some of these [best practices],” Commissioner Ann Bristow said, “but you use them to reduce the risk.” She called this one of the Catch-22s of the study.
The other, she said, is that the study ranks risks as lower only because few people in any one location would be affected. “You are studying risk analysis in an area that you know is sparsely populated and now you are using sparse population as a reason not to assess risk as severe.”
She held up a paper titled “LOCALIZED, AND DISENFRANCHISED: Who Endures Fracking Risks?” that lists numerous occasions when the study reduced the risk from high to moderate or moderate to low because the risks were “localized.” She had worked on the paper with Nadine Grabania, who co-owns a winery and farm outside Friendsville with her husband, Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the shale advisory panel. For example: “The consequence of the release of drilling fluid is classified as moderate because, although it could cause considerable adverse impact on people or the environment, the damage would be localized.” (Appendix, p. 15)
“What I hear you saying is that because it’s occurring to a very small number of people, the risk isn’t that great,” Roberts said.
“We are talking about human beings who are living close to these facilities … where there is going to be considerable adverse effect,” Bristow said. Then ensued a brief discussion about how many people harmed is too many. Three? 500? Bristow said they would be “sacrificed.” Commissioner Harry Weiss objected, but Bristow said, “I am going to use some superlative language here” when so much is a stake.
Also troubling was that the risk study labeled many threats as “moderate,” which at first glance sounds downright reasonable and benign. All things in moderation, as they say. But, Bristow and Roberts said, the study defines moderate as: “Considerable adverse impact on people or the environment. Could affect the health of persons in the immediate vicinity; localized or temporary environmental damage.” Suddenly, moderate is sounding rather grim. And keep in mind that all but four counties in Maryland lie on top of shale basins.
Commissioner George Edwards, re-elected state senator in the Republican rout of the night before, was getting impatient. Worried about trucking? A distribution center brings traffic, too, but no one would ask for a risk study on that, he said. Forest fragmentation? Wildlife and hunters like it, he said. You can’t get 100 percent guarantee on anything, he also said. And, mocking Trout Unlimited’s push for a ban on fracking in the Savage River watershed, Edwards said, “Maybe we need to do a study on the fishermen to see if they might get hurt if they slip on a rock.” One of the commissioners, Nick Weber, who had long pushed for the risk study, is a past chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited.
“You are going to see a big change in Annapolis this year,” Edwards said. “We had an election. … People went and voted, and they elected people that publicly said they supported drilling but they want it done right.” He also mentioned that he had not read the risk analysis.
And on Friday, the day Pennsylvanians told their stories of despair outside FERC’s offices, the day protesters were shouting “The people are rising. No more compromising,” and signs said “Protect Our Children. Stop Drilling Near Our Schools,” and “Climate Can’t Wait,” The Cumberland Times-News published reactions from Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel about the election. Beitzel called the election a “game-changer.” The commission’s onerous proposals would squash drilling in Maryland, he said, and he hoped the new administration would moderate regulations, “more like what other states have done.”
Indeed, during the campaign, Hogan accused the state of “studying [fracking] to death.” As an “all-of-the-above kind of guy” on energy, Hogan called natural gas a “clean energy” and fracking “critical to our state economy.”
Protests continued Monday at Cove Point, where Lusby resident Leslie Garcia was arrested while trying to deliver an eviction notice to Dominion. About 50 residents and other supporters picketed at the entrance of the construction site. “I have nothing to lose by protesting, because I have everything to lose if this project continues,” Garcia said.
June 18, 2014
Despite frequent strong objections last week from three of its members, the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commissioners signed off on — or voted that they could “live with” — a set of best practices for fracking in Maryland.
Here are a few practices the majority accepted or said it could live with:
- cultural and historic sites, state and federal parks and trails, wildlife management areas, scenic and wild rivers and scenic byways 300 feet (the length of a football field) from the edge of a frack pad;
- aquatic habitat (such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, seeps and wetlands) 450 feet from the edge of frack pads;
- irreplaceable natural areas and wild lands 600 feet from the edge of drill pads and permanent infrastructure;
- homes, schools and other occupied buildings 1,000 feet from the edge of a frack site;
- private and public water sources 2,000 feet from the drill hole (with exceptions that could allow drilling within 1,000 feet of a gas well).
The centerpiece of the best practices is the mandatory Comprehensive Gas Development Plan (CGDP), an overarching timeline and siting of “clustered drilling pads” and infrastructure. A public meeting is also part of this CGDP, giving property owners, local officials and organizations up to 60 days to comment. If your property is within 2,500 feet of a proposed drill site, you’ll be notified. No drilling would be allowed on state lands or within the watersheds of the Broadford Lake, Piney and Savage reservoirs.
The three frequently dissenting commissioners — Ann Bristow of the Savage River Watershed Association, citizen representative and farmer Paul Roberts, and Nick Weber of Trout Unlimited — had wanted to delay the best practices vote until the risk assessment and health study were complete. They asked how the best practices would be updated to reflect those reports, along with evolving science.
Roberts also asked whether a fundraising event for Gov. Martin O’Malley at the D.C. headquarters of America’s Natural Gas Alliance had any bearing on the rush to finish the best practices. Robert M. Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), who occasionally attends these monthly meetings, called out from the back of the small and crowded classroom at Allegany College that “the campaign is completely separate” from government offices. “So, there is no connection whatsoever.”
Weber said repeatedly that too many of the best practices, from flaring to cementing to casing, seemed to be mere suggestions urging drillers to “Do the right thing” and pointing to American Petroleum Institute guidelines. Drillers need to avoid this or minimize that, he said, and are granted altogether too much leeway. Weber, a scientist formerly with the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, has long argued that the state should develop best practices only after analyzing the risks fracking poses to human and animal health and the environment.
But that’s not how the state is proceeding.
Brigid Kenney, a senior policy adviser at MDE, said the in-house risk assessment will analyze potential harms in light of this snapshot of best practices. Based on that analysis, if a risk were still deemed too high, she said, MDE would consider additional practices. The votes, she said, will appear in an appendix to the final best practices report. “I should point out: It’s two years late already,” Kenney said of the best practices report.
The governor’s June 2011 executive order setting up the three-year study commission said the best practices were due in August 2012, but progress was slowed by lack of funding. Drs. Keith Eshleman and Andrew Elmore delivered their best practices recommendations to the commission in February 2013, and the commission, MDE and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have been working on them on and off since then.
Worth noting here is that the best practices will be the basis for updating the state’s regulations, which until now have dealt only with conventional drilling and mining. In fact, the state had been months away from granting permits for fracking in the Marcellus Shale under Garrett and Allegany counties under existing regulations when concerned residents raised alarms, setting in motion the advisory commission and what amounts to the state’s three-year moratorium. The 15-member commission, working (without pay) with MDE and DNR, is charged with determining whether fracking “can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources.” That determination has not yet been made.
Jeffrey Kupfer, a fellow at the Asia Society and former senior adviser at Chevron, urged fellow commissioners to press on with the best practices votes. “This is MDE’s and DNR’s report. We play a role in this, but at the end of the day, it’s their words on the paper. It’s their report,” he said on a conference phone line. “We don’t need to push the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope. A ‘best practice’ is something we’ve seen somewhere else and that works.”
Given the practices and accidents in other states and threats emerging in health studies, Kupfer’s definition of a best practice could fall well short of the “gold standard” to which state officials say they aspire.
But the vote commenced, with each commissioner indicating by a show of hands whether the proposed standard was 1) “appropriate,” 2) might not be appropriate “but I can live with it” or 3) “not appropriate because_______.”
VOTING ON THE CGDP
First up for a vote was the CGDP, which, Kenney said, “is the most important thing we can do to minimize impacts.” The state would require a company or group of companies to seek approval for a drilling plan covering a large area and including the location of well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure.
Although the state’s goal has been to have the best practices grounded in science, Roberts said, no research demonstrates that CGDPs reduce harms. In fact, John Quigley, who oversaw similar development plans for fracking in Pennsylvania’s state forests and who produced a report for Maryland saying the CGDPs would be a win-win for the business and the environment, testified in a lawsuit last month that the impact on forests in his state had been “underestimated.”
“There are going to be impacts,” said Commissioner Stephen M. Bunker of the Nature Conservancy. He said his organization is developing a tool to determine where best to locate roads and gas lines to “minimize impact on the landscape.”
To which Roberts replied: “But as someone who lives out here, what I’m concerned about here is a 40-acre industrial fracking compound 1,000 feet from my house.”
“There is nothing showing [the CGDP] is consistently superior to other techniques,” Bristow said. The CGDP might lessen forest fragmentation, she said, but it doesn’t address threats to public health. In fact, she said, “intense aggregation [of wells] may be worse for public health.” Workers and nearby residents will be exposed to more air emissions, for example. The risk of explosion and well casing failure might also increase. “The point is that [the CGDP] is a land-use decision. It is not a public health model.” she said.
Commissioners who voted that the CGDP was an appropriate practice were: David Vanko, chairman and Towson University dean; state Sen. George C. Edwards; Pennsylvania attorney Harry Weiss; Bunker from Nature Conservancy; Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison; Garrett Commissioner James M. Raley; and Clifford S. Mitchell M.D., director of the Environmental Health Bureau of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Kupfer said he was a 2 — he could “live with” the CGDPs — or was between a 2 and a 3. He said he supported the idea “in principle, but my concern is the way it’s laid out here it’s not workable in practice” for industry.
Voting that the CGDP was “not appropriate” were Bristow, Roberts and Weber.
(Allegany Commissioner William R. Valentine couldn’t attend because he was assessing flood damage from several days of heavy rain in his county. Commissioners Heather Mizeur, Shawn Bender and Dominick E. Murray didn’t attend.)
BUFFERS FROM FRACKING
Voting on setbacks yielded similar split votes. The separation between the well pad’s edge of disturbance and streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, seeps, wetlands, reservoirs and 100-year floodplains would be 450 feet. Again, Bristow, Roberts and Weber dissented. “I don’t see 450 feet as protective” of agricultural uses, or for humans and other animals, Bristow said.
Of the distance protecting wildlands and other special conservation areas, Bristow and Roberts dissented. “It’s shocking to me that Maryland is going to [allow a drill pad] 600 feet from an irreplaceable natural area,” Roberts said.
Mitchell joined Bristow, Roberts and Weber in opposing the 300-foot setback from cultural and historical sites, state and federal parks, trails, wildlife. He said “aesthetic issues” and noise were at stake and he wanted to see the health study results before deciding if that buffer would be sufficient.
The buffer of 1,000 feet from occupied buildings fails to protect farm animals, Bristow said. “We don’t have data on goats and cows … [and] we’re going to be eating their byproducts. It’s not protective enough.” That setback also ignores undeveloped property, Roberts said. But Kenney as well as Commissioner Bunker said that was a local property rights matter beyond the scope of the commission.
Kupfer, the Chevron representative, joined Bristow, Roberts and Weber in opposing the 2,000-foot setback from private drinking wells. Kupfer dissented because the setback seemed too large: “This one seems over the top and unsubstantiated.” Roberts, however, has long urged 1-kilometer (3,280-feet) setbacks, based in part on Duke University research that was presented to the commission in April. At the suggestion of Chairman Vanko, the state will run the risk assessment using the 1-kilometer setback as well as the proposed 2,000 feet.
DISCLOSURE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS
The best practice on chemical disclosure satisfied no one, although, again, many could “live with it.” Kenney said Maryland would have the “most stringent regulation” in the nation, requiring disclosure of toxic chemicals and their concentration used at a frack site. Companies claiming a trade secret, however, could withhold the brand name and concentration. Should someone fall ill or be injured by one of these trade secret chemicals, a doctor would contact the company for information. (Medical organizations have complained, for starters, that doctors won’t necessarily know which company to call. Knowing the concentration of chemicals is also key. ) Doctors would be allowed to share the information with the patient and, if the patient is a minor or unconscious, the patient’s family, as well as public health officials — although the information would still be deemed confidential. A company could ask physicians to sign a nondisclosure form, although signing such a form could not be a condition of receiving the information. Health professionals, toxicologists and epidemiologists could also request information about the secret chemicals for research, but that could be conditioned on confidentiality agreements.
Vanko, Kupfer, Raley, Weiss, Mitchell, Edwards, Bunker and Jamison said they could “live with” the proposal. Bristow, Roberts and Weber dissented. “One very strong standard we can set is to start opening this up so research can be done,” said Bristow, who called the proposal “grossly inappropriate” and suggested that “trade secret” chemicals not be permitted.
THERE IS NO ‘AWAY’
What to do with the waste also split the commissioners. Maryland’s geology is unsuited for disposal in deep injection wells, and the state won’t allow sewage treatment plants to accept the toxic and radioactive waste. So, although companies would be encouraged to reuse as much as possible, eventually millions of gallons of Maryland’s fracking waste would be loaded on trucks and shipped out of state. Kenney said the state would require record-keeping on the waste hauler, volume and shipment dates.
Bristow, Roberts and Weber asked about the integrity of tanks and how long waste could be stored on site. They feared a “shell game,” with tanks of toxic and radioactive waste being moved from one temporary spot to another.
“Our shipping our crap to other states that don’t have our regulations” is a “social justice issue,” Bristow said. “Wastewater is going to be the Achilles’ heel of this industry,” she said. “For Maryland to say, ‘We don’t want it here, ship to Ohio,’ seems to me very inappropriate.”
“What will we do in 2021 when Ohio can’t take more?” Roberts asked. Scientists have linked injection wells and fracking in Ohio to earthquakes.
“There’s a problem here,” said Commissioner Weiss, the attorney. “Somebody’s going to make a lot of money off it. But we don’t have [a solution] yet.”
Voting that the practice is appropriate: Edwards, Vanko, Weiss and Kupfer. Willing to “live with” it: Raley, Bunker, Mitchell, Jamison. And dissenting: Bristow, Roberts and Weber. “It’s inappropriate to dump the problem somewhere else,” Bristow said.
FAILURE TO PROTECT
After listening to six hours of voting on these and other best practices, those who would have to live near future drilling sites were sharply critical.
“It’s frustrating that people who do not live on the shale are asked to say if they can ‘live with’ a regulation that can fail to protect those who ‘live on’ the land about to be industrialized,” said Nadine Grabania, who owns a farm and winery in Garrett County with her husband, Commissioner Roberts, and who serves on that county’s Shale Gas Advisory Committee. Calling in between customers at her Friendsville winery, she asked the state officials “to consider weighting the dissenting contributions to this consensus process because these commissioners represent actual residents who will experience the impacts that regulations are intended to mitigate. The state should place a higher value on protections than on the perception that our priority is to facilitate industrial development in rural and residential communities.”
“You ‘number 2s’ can ‘live with’ your decisions, but we will be the ones actually living with your decisions,” said Gabriel Echeverri of Frostburg, who was arrested in February in an act of civil disobedience to stop the facility in Cove Point that would liquefy and export fracked gas. “We are going to have to be living with the eventualities — not the possibilities — of degradation of water, land and air that give us sustenance in this place we call home.”
“Conservation areas get setbacks while farms do not,” said Paul Durham of the Garrett County Board of Realtors. “A limestone cave gets a setback while a field of corn does not. If you are a forest-dwelling bird, you get a setback, but if you are cattle you do not. And if you are fortunate enough to have a well or occupied building on your property, you get a setback, but if your property is unimproved the setback from compressor stations and gas infrastructure is zero feet from your property line and the setback to the well bore is cut in half.” Three studies, he said, have confirmed that proximity to drilling activity lowers property values. He questioned whether the state was trying to set a gold standard when it was ignoring best practices that would protect property values.
The day after the meeting, West Virginia Host Farms gave several commissioners a tour of fracking sites in that state. Members of the public were not permitted to go along.
February 21, 2014
A boisterous, determined, chanting, sign-waving crowd of at least 700 people from across the state and beyond converged on sunny Baltimore today to say that Dominion Resources’ planned Cove Point export facility for fracked gas is a threat to our health, our economy, our climate and our future.
“Maryland is here today because Maryland is at risk,” shouted Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, at the rally at the War Memorial Plaza downtown.
Nearby, the Public Service Commission was considering whether Virginia-based Dominion’s planned 130-megawatt gas-fired power plant and liquefaction facility would be in the “public interest.”
Outside, the protesters from around Maryland and neighboring states shouted, No, it would not be in their interest — or in the interest of future generations. “Listen to our voice; Dominion’s not our choice!” No, they said, it would not be in their interest to frack the countryside to get the gas for this enterprise. Because no matter how much Dominion says this facility has nothing to do with fracking, it has everything to do with fracking.Tidwell compared the fight against Cove Point to the one decades ago against tobacco companies. The evidence in the surgeon general’s report on the dangers of smoking changed everything. “We have a new Camel cigarette threat,” he said. Like the tobacco companies, Dominion is insisting that lighting something on fire — fracked gas — is good for Maryland. Of the state’s 23 counties, 19 lie atop shale basins, he said. He demanded that the PSC “serve the public by rejecting this radical Cove Point plan.” And he urged U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin to “get our back” and demand the fullest environmental review of the project
“This is where Maryland makes its climate change stand,” said state Del. Heather Mizeur, a candidate for governor who for years has questioned the safety of fracking. “If I were in charge of this state, I would say no to Cove Point,” she said to cheers. If the plant were built, Maryland would see “rising pollution, rising prices and rising tides.”
Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, rebuked Dominion for trying to buy off communities by “passing out money instead of straight answers.” Marylanders won’t “swap our environmental future for cash,” he said.
Many unanswered questions remain about the project, said Rebecca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. What are the health effects, she asked, of more pipeline explosions, more asthma cases, radon in the shale gas, water contamination and climate change?
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus encouraged Maryland to update its motto from Free State, in honor of its role in abolishing slavery, to Fossil-Free State. “This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century,” he said. “We must stop Cove Point.” He had the crowd chanting: “Thank God Almighty, we will be fossil free at last.”
“When you say no to Cove Point, you are saying no on behalf of yourselves, your communities and your natural resources,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth in Pennsylvania. “But you are also doing it for my state, my community, my natural resources.” Cabot Oil & Gas, the fracking company that left families in Dimock, Pa., without drinking water, has already signed a deal to send fracked gas to Cove Point, she said.
After the first round of speakers, protesters marched several blocks to the Public Service Commission, chanting, “Hey, O’Malley, what the frack. Get Dominion off our back!” and “Hey, O’Malley, lead on climate; it’s time to break your Cove Point silence!” And they yelled loudly so that the lawyers on the 23rd floor would hear them. They carried signs with a butterfly, salamander and fish. They hoisted little windmills that spun in the breeze. Some carried a huge inflatable pipeline with the sign “No Cove Point.” One sign said, “Fracking + Cove Point = Unacceptable Risk.” Another said, “Cove Point = Climate Disaster.” A banner from Frederick said: Fracking isn’t a bridge. It’s a dead end.”
Students came from Frostburg State, St. Mary’s College, Maryland Institute College of Art, University of Maryland and other schools. Parents, some pushing strollers, and workers and retirees came from as far as Garrett and Calvert counties. Some protesters also traveled from New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania. Clare Zdziebko lives four houses beyond the Dominion Cove Point property line in Lusby. She pushed her nearly 2-year-old son, Dominick, in a stroller. “He needs clean air and clean water,” she said.
After the march to the PSC came several more speakers. Ashok Chandwaney, a student at St. Mary’s, told the crowd he feared the world that his 15-month-old niece will inherit: “I wonder what the world will look like when she’s my age.” He said we are on the cusp of a climate catastrophe and he doesn’t want Dominion to be able to build this facility on a piece of land that will be submerged by climate change.
“We are united here today as one Maryland,” said Nadine Grabania, a winemaker who lives in Garrett County. “I’m here to ask you to promise me you will never think of Garrett or Calvert counties — or anyplace where the shale gas industry wants to do its risky business — as ‘elsewhere.’ ”
“We will not be silent,” said Ted Cady, whose town of Myersville in Frederick County is fighting a compressor station for fracked gas. “We will act. We will ensure the future health and safety of our children.”
And Lois Gibbs, who led residents at New York state’s Love Canal in the 1970s, reminded the crowd that “facts will not win this fight.” For every fact you point out, industry will have an answer, she said. Those at Love Canal did not win “because we played nice,” she said. “Polite people get poisoned. Polite people get polluted.” When you brush your teeth and wash your face at night, also tweet O’Malley. Tweet your legislators. “Facts are critically important,” she said, but if we are going to win this fight we need to email and tweet and take vacation time for rallies.
“We’ve got a big fight ahead of us,” Tidwell said. “Make this a part of your life until we win. … Let’s go fight!”
— elisabeth hoffman
February 15, 2014
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.
“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?”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.”