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A winding road in unfracked Garrett County. An Associated Press analysis found that traffic fatalities had increased more than fourfold since 2004 in states with fracking. http://bit.ly/1ux9415 //photo by Crede Calhoun

Between naps at a meeting last week about a Cove Point wetlands permit, Gov. Martin O’Malley apparently woke up long enough to decide that fracking could be done safely in Maryland. Even though his Marcellus Shale advisory commission is still wading through reports that raise plenty of alarms.

The big reveal came at a daylong session of the state Board of Public Works (BPW), of which the governor is one of three members. On the agenda was Dominion’s permit for a temporary pier, which the company needs to haul in equipment for its proposed facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and send it off to Asia on huge tankers.

Most of the permission slips for this $3.8 billion project come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the state has had a couple opportunities to weigh in. Already the Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the go-ahead for Dominion to build the 130-megawatt power plant needed to liquefy the fracked gas. In its April ruling, the PSC listed numerous hazards and said the facility “will not provide net economic benefit to Maryland citizens,” but whatever. The PSC said Dominion would have to pay $8 million a year for five years into a fund for renewable energy, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation and another $8 million over 20 years to help low-income residents pay for their rising — thanks to the exports — heating bills.

Last week, Dominion needed permission from the BPW for a wetlands-disturbing pier. Cove Point residents seized that opportunity to tell O’Malley, who had so far been silent on Dominion’s plans, that this facility has them fearing for their lives. Lusby resident Tracey Eno, however, noticed that O’Malley kept nodding off and at one point walked out. “I’m sorry that the governor stepped out because this is really for him. Should I wait?” she asked. She was told to continue, although she backtracked when he returned.

In the end, Dominion got its permit. But not before O’Malley said he believes that natural gas can be a “bridge” fuel to the future of renewable energy, while “in the meantime” the environment is safeguarded at every stage with the “highest and best standards.”

How has the governor reached a conclusion that any standards — even “highest and best” — will be sufficient before having seen a report from his appointed advisory commission? His 2011 executive order instructed the 15-member panel to determine whether and how fracking could be done without unacceptable risks to health, safety and the environment. In fact, in April 2013, Secretary Robert Summers of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) assured Marylanders that a decision about fracking had not been made. In an open letter posted on the advisory commission’s website, Summers wrote that the department “recently received many emails from people who have been told that the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission assumes hydraulic fracturing is inevitable and is rushing to enact regulations to pave the way for gas development. This is not true. No decision has been made about whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in Maryland, and MDE is proceeding methodically and cautiously to develop stringent regulations that will protect Marylanders in the event hydraulic fracturing is allowed.”

Although the advisory commission is nearing the end of its work, numerous state studies remain unfinished, including on health effects, traffic and an assessment of risks. The commission has yet to evaluate the economic study that calculated job growth but failed to quantify a key downside: the effect on tourism and the environment. And the state, in its “interim final best practices report” says it’s only “considering whether it is feasible” to require frackers to estimate and purchase offsets for climate-disrupting methane emissions. (It would calculate those emissions based on methane’s carbon footprint over 100 years — about 30 times as powerful as CO2 — instead of over 20 years — about 85 times as powerful. Even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “there is no scientific argument” for selecting the 100-year time frame. So, that’s already not the “highest and best” standard.)

Moreover, no study has emerged showing fracking can be done safely. To the contrary, evidence is mounting that fracking poses grave threats to public health and safety, water, air, farm animals and pets, industry workers, soil and agriculture, and climate. The Concerned Health Professionals of New York has compiled the research to date in a 70-page report. “The pace at which new studies and information are emerging has rapidly accelerated in the past year and a half: the first few months of 2014 saw more studies published on the health effects of fracking than all studies published in 2011 and 2012 combined,” the report says.

News reports last week from fracked Pennsylvania and Ohio have not been reassuring. Pennsylvania’s auditor general concluded in a 118-page report that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was “unprepared to meet the challenges of monitoring shale gas development effectively.” Eugene DePasquale, the auditor general, said in a news release: “There are very dedicated hard-working people at DEP but they are being hampered in doing their jobs by lack of resources — including staff and a modern information technology system — and inconsistent or failed implementation of department policies, among other things. … It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose. There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.”

DePasquale also said DEP had failed to “consistently issue official orders to well operators who had been determined by DEP to have adversely impacted water supplies.”

Based on information from an open records request, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that “oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania water supplies 209 times since the end of 2007.”

And in Ohio, news comes that Halliburton withheld complete information about its secret fracking brew for five days after a fire and explosions in June sent toxic chemicals into a tributary of the Ohio River, threatening the drinking water supply for millions of people and killing 700,000 fish.

Governor O’Malley, however, appears to be looking the other way. Perhaps at campaign checks from America’s Natural Gas Alliance. Without bothering to wait for his commissioners to issue a report, the governor has decided that fracking can be made safe for Marylanders. One might wonder whether his shale advisory commission has been a charade all along.

O’Malley — and the shale commission — could offer far better protection for Marylanders and our environment by heeding the warnings of Cape Breton University President David Wheeler. In Nova Scotia, Wheeler is head of a panel, not unlike Maryland’s advisory commission, that is considering whether to recommend lifting a two-year moratorium on fracking. Over the last couple months, the panel has issued 10 “discussion papers” described as rosy toward industry. And yet Wheeler concluded last week that the moratorium should be extended. “We need more research in a couple of particular areas before anyone could take a view on whether this is a good or a bad idea in any part of the province,” he said. Nor, he said, should seismic testing and exploratory drilling be allowed without community consent. “And we’re saying communities are not in a position to give permission to proceed because there’s not enough knowledge. We’re a long way from that.”

–elisabeth hoffman

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protesters decry cove point

February 21, 2014

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The Rev. Lennox Yearwood tells the crowd that the “Free State” should be renamed the “Fossil-Free State.”

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.

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“Make this [fight] a part of your life until we win,” Mike Tidwell urged the crowd.

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.”

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“This is what dissent looks like. This is what democracy looks like,” Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman told the protesters.

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.”

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“Polite people get poisoned,” Lois Gibbs told the crowd.

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

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Protesters march toward the Public Service Commission.

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Paige Shuttleworth (left), who designed this banner and costumes, stands with protester Diane Wittner.

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Ann Coren and Ron Meservey carry HoCo ClimateChange’s new banner.

 

I’m holding my remake of the classic anti-war poster and waiting for the protest to start with, from left, Michael Hartman, Shaun Mathis, Liz Feighner and Ruth White.

Fracking protesters mussed up a little corner of perfectly coiffed National Harbor yesterday afternoon. As those attending the Spring Policy Conference of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) were allegedly preparing for dinner, 70 or so activists outside listened to some fiery speeches, marched up and down a sidewalk, and yelled and carried signs about the dangers of fracking. No governors were in view, although people with the DGA logo on name cards occasionally gave us a glance as they headed somewhere on the opposite sidewalk.

Much of the message was directed at Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O’Malley of Maryland — governors with presidential aspirations who have the natural gas industry knocking at the back door, protesters at the front door and the mess that is fracked Pennsylvania next door.

“Democratic governors should be representing us and not the oil and gas industry,” said Mark Schlosberg of Food & Water Watch, one of the organizers of the protest.

The protest came during a week of Senate hearings on natural gas supplies, exports, best practices and environmental effects. Also, the out-of-state speakers were at a Stop the Frack People’s Forum in DC earlier in the day.

“We can do it safely, but if we do it safely,  it won’t be profitable,” said  Fred Tutman  of Patuxent Riverkeeper.  He urged protesters to also look at the ripple effects of fracking, in particular the Cove Point plant that Dominion Resources Inc. is trying to turn into an export facility for liquefied natural gas. “This is a bridge fuel to no place in particular,” he said, but local communities will pay for it with their water.

For more than a year, Rod Brueske has battled commissioners in rural Boulder County, CO, over fracking wells near his organic farm. He lodged complaints after his family experienced  nosebleeds and other health problems. Turns out wells were releasing excessive volatile organic compounds, violating air quality regulations, and the company had to pay a $15,000 fine. “They buy pickup trucks for less than that,” he said. Of his state’s governor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, Brueske said, “We don’t have a governor in Colorado. We have an oil and gas man who is moonlighting as a governor.”

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Tammy Manning, Craig Stevens and Ray Kemble live near fracking wells.

From Pennsylvania, land of the List of the Harmed, Craig Stevens, Tammy Manning and Ray Kemble brought warnings about well water contaminated with methane and fracking chemicals. Calling fracking “generational suicide,” Stevens said, “I will not stand by and watch my neighbors…be poisoned.”  For now, Manning’s family uses a driller-provided “water buffalo” because her well water has had high levels of explosive methane since 2011, after fracking began nearby. She constantly fears that the gas companies will withdraw the replacement water because Pennsylvania officials claim the methane has nothing to do with fracking – even though she is near 10 wells, four of which had casing failures. Kemble used to work in the industry so was able to inquire about extensive repairs on the rig 500 feet from his house. He said one of the workers revealed: “We’ve got major casing failure. This casing’s been leaking since ’08,” when the well was drilled. Kemble said some of the 27 chemicals in his water are uranium, barium, silica, strontium and arsenic.

After the protest ended at 5:30 p.m., a few of us from CCIHC  wandered around National Harbor to avoid rush-hour traffic. As we headed for the huge sculpture of “The Awakening” on the beach, a police officer stopped us from walking toward an adjacent boardwalk jutting into the water where others were clearly allowed to go. She said the area was reserved for a private event and not for protests. We assured her that the protest was over, and that we were just avoiding traffic. Our shirts were clearly a problem: We were walking protest signs. We also carried our cardboard signs. As we turned to leave the sculpture, we noticed the DGA sign. Turns out we were precariously close to the dock and boat where the governors were congregating. A few minutes later, another officer zoomed up to us on a Segway to ask our intentions. We again said the rally was over and we were just waiting to leave.

Here’s what the police couldn’t stop: A clerk in a store, people sitting on the off-limits (to us) boardwalk and people in the parking garage and on the street all asked about our shirts and fracking.

–elisabeth hoffman 

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Protesters came with a message for the National Governors Association.

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