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We can’t say we haven’t been warned

The latest alarms about fracking come from Pennsylvania residents who joined Delegate Heather Mizeur and others at a press conference in Federal Hill this week as she announced legislation calling for a moratorium on the practice in Maryland until it is shown to be safe.

Urging a moratorium on fracking in Maryland are, from left, Garrett County farmer Paul Roberts, landowner Craig Stevens from Montrose, PA, Delegate Heather Mizeur, CCAN Director Mike Tidwell, and Megan Jenny, Maryland field coordinator for CCAN.

Other states have “drilled first and asked questions second,” Mizeur said. “That has led to a lot of mistakes, that has led to a lot of cleanup, that has led to a lot of regrets.”

Craig L. Stevens, an emissary from what he called “ground zero for Marcellus Shale drilling” in Pennsylvania, carried a jug of brown tap water from Dimock. The sixth-generation landowner and self-described right-wing tea partier from Montrose, not far from Dimock, encouraged Marylanders to “come to our neck of the woods; you’re not going to like what you see.”

He said the industry persuaded his ailing grandmother in a nursing home to sign a lease on the family’s land. “I was ‘drill, baby, drill,’ but now I say, ‘Drink, baby, drink.”

“Governor O’Malley, if you think this is going to be good for the state of Maryland, come and drink our water,” Stevens said. “It has things in it that will probably last our lifetime or 10,000 years. … Come see what it’s like to live in ‘Gasland.’ You will want to ban.”

Veronica Coptis, a community organizer with Mountain Watershed Association in southwest Pennsylvania, had similar warnings: “Many families have lost their access to clean water, are breathing in harmful air … and dealing with health problems. The people with the courage to speak up are harassed [by the industry]. One family, including young children, have five wells and a pipeline on their property and are experiencing health impacts such as nosebleeds, muscle aches and cramps, fatigue, and are under constant stress.”

She said, “Fracking destroys the quiet and peaceful nature of our rural communities. I have seen firsthand small-town main streets become major highways full of large industrial trucks traveling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Neighbors who would help each other out are now not speaking anymore because of a difference of opinion.”

Mizeur, whose op-ed about her moratorium legislation was published in the Baltimore Sun, said, “Our default position will be no drilling” until Maryland has science-based studies to evaluate the effects on public health, the climate, the environment and tourism.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s appointed safe-drilling commission, of which Mizeur is a member, has been studying fracking for nine months but has no funding. The commission’s final recommendation is due in August 2014.

Mizeur said the governor’s executive order, which set up the commission and called for the study, is insufficient to protect Marylanders and “at best a de facto moratorium.” O’Malley’s term expires in 2014, and even now, she said, the state has no legal protection if industry were to sue to force a decision on drilling under the executive order. She accused industry of trying to wait out the commission. Without funding for a study, “we will be in a place of having to make an ill-informed decision,” she said.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), said a bill introduced during the last General Assembly session would have funded the commission’s research with a fee imposed on drillers based on acres leased. Although the levy passed the House of Delegates by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and votes were lined up in the Senate, industry’s “discreet lobbying” and phone calls blocked the bill in committee, he said.

“We have a democracy problem in this state,” he said, with industry on the phones and behind closed doors in Annapolis preventing open discussion. He framed the problem as democracy and debate vs. secrecy, lobbying and money from industry. “Let’s have a moratorium on fracking. Let’s get this right, if it can be done right.”

Also speaking at the press conference were Katie Huffling, a nurse-midwife from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments; Paul Roberts, a farmer and winery owner in Garrett County and member of the study commission; and Dave O’Leary from the Maryland Sierra Club.

“All of Maryland has a huge stake because we collect water for two great watersheds,” Roberts said, noting that some Garrett water flows to the Potomac River and on to the Chesapeake Bay, and the rest flows to the Ohio River and on to the Mississippi and to New Orleans. He said the industry boasts two benefits from drilling: high-paying jobs and energy independence. “The facts are that this is a fiction,” he said. The number of jobs is insignificant and, in Western Maryland, where the economy is dependent on tourism, jobs could even be lost. “Are you going to want  to come to Western Maryland and go on vacation or spend a million dollars on a vacation home if you are going wake up beside a gas plant some day or a compressor station or a gas drill?”

Also, companies are preparing to export the gas to Asia and Europe, Roberts said. “This is not about energy independence. This is about the largest, richest companies in the world trying to make more money.”

Huffling described the dangers to gas-field workers and the nurses who treat them, including a 2008 case in Colorado of an emergency room nurse whose liver failed and who nearly died after treating a worker exposed to the chemicals used in fracking. The company that made the fracking fluid would not, and was not required to, disclose information about the fluid that doctors had requested to aid their treatment of the woman. For communities, she said, fracking leads to diseases from air and water pollution and stress from noise pollution.

O’Leary of the Maryland Sierra Club said he was motivated to work on the moratorium after he saw damage from pipelines and roads in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, which has beautiful areas for camping, hiking and skiing.

Mizeur said she is counting on grassroots support to overcome the influence of industry in the General Assembly. ”Everyone who enjoys fresh water has a stake in this.”

The groups backing the moratorium are CCAN, Maryland Sierra Club, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Climate Change Initiative of Howard County, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environment Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Student Climate Coalition,  the NAACP Maryland State Conference, Earthworks, Interfaith Power & Light (MD.DC.NoVA) and Labor Network for Sustainability.

–elisabeth hoffman


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