Residents of Accident, a small town on the westernmost edge of Maryland, are among those who would be affected if the state allows energy companies to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. Photo by Greg Masters, Capital News Service.
by SARAH POLUS
Capital News Service
It will likely be months before Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley decides the fate of fracking in the Free State, but opponents of the natural-gas extraction process aim to keep the issue in the spotlight.
Environment Maryland, a non-profit environmental conservation organization, has issued a report which outlines the potential side effects that fracking could produce, including contaminated water, reproductive issues and air pollution problems.
Some members of the General Assembly share these concerns, including Delegate Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery.
A member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, Robinson said among the top environmental concerns associated with fracking is the emission of methane, which is more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Instead of permitting fracking, Robinson said, Maryland should be acting as a model for other states to follow by investing in real clean energy, like wind and solar.
“We are the stewards of this planet for future generations,” Robinson said.
But Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Travis Wendle argues that natural gas development has “indisputably” helped to increase air quality in the U.S. Carbon dioxide levels are at a 20-year low due to its use, he said.
Wendle, who lives in southwestern Pennsylvania, said natural gas companies have an unwavering commitment to protecting the local communities and environments affected by the fracking process. He sees fracking as a positive addition to communities, because of its ability to boost their economies. Natural gas usage, including Maryland’s Dominion Cove Point natural gas export facility, has led to a huge upswing in local economies, and “been a godsend for us as nation,” he said.
Instead of relying upon other countries, the U.S. needs to “produce more energy at home that will put tens of thousands of Americans to work,” Wendle said.
But Environment Maryland spokeswoman Talya Tavor said fracking has caused about 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater in Pennsylvania, and opponents are concerned the same thing would happen in Maryland.
Along with wastewater issues, fracking has caused other concerns such as degrading 360,000 acres of land and emitting 450,000 tons of air pollution, she said.
“The numbers on fracking add up to environmental disaster,” Tavor said.
According to Delegate Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, fracking will only hurt the nation’s citizens and their health.
Kelly cited 161 incidences from 2008-2012 where drinking water was contaminated from fracking. Other health concerns associated with fracking are eye irritation, headaches, asthma and even cancer. A major concern is the presence of endocrine disruptors in fracking emissions, which can lead to infertility and gynecological disorders.
According to Dr. Yousef Zarbalian, fracking has the potential to create reproductive issues in humans. In tests on animals, however, animals exposed to wastewater displayed many symptoms such as stillbirths.
“We’re working to fight these problems, not encourage them,” Kelly said.
But Wendle said the natural gas industry has passed many regulations ensuring the safety of fracking.
“We care about our environment and clean air,” Wendle said. “Not just now, but for years to come.”
According to Zarbalian, no one is really sure what health risks are associated with fracking, “We should aim to prevent what we cannot cure,” he said.
The unknowns are exactly what make people not want fracking to invade their communities, Zarbalian explained.
O’Malley will decide on fracking’s fate in Maryland around August 2014, when the final report in a study to determine if fracking can be accomplished without unacceptable risks is released, Maryland Department of Energy spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman said.
So far two components of the report — examining revenue, liability and best practices — have been released. Those reports conclude that while negative impacts are inevitable, certain policies can be followed in order to reduce harm to the level where economic benefits outweigh negative impacts.
O’Malley will not take a definite stance on the issue until the final report is complete, Kappalman said.