What is “fracking”?

Hydraulic fracturing of underground rock structures to recover natural gas is spreading rapidly around the US.  It is producing natural gas and grave environmental concerns. This practice, commonly called “Fracking”, involves high pressure pumping of huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals into promising rock or shale formations to break them and release trapped natural gas.  Fracking is reported in 28 States. Corporations now want to use fracking in Western Maryland and have obtained many “intent to frack” leases from local landowners.  

 

Are there concerns?

Industry avoids responsibility.  Industry’s approach is frack now, keep the chemicals used secret by claiming “trade secrets”, don’t tell landowners of all risks around leasing their land, deny provable legal responsibility for negative effects, delay impact research and lobby against regulatory legislation.   A Bush Administration regulatory exemption from the Clean Water Act is assuming, they cannot be held retroactively responsible for damages caused before regulations are imposed.  This strategy minimizes expenses and increases profits, but is often used and inspires much mistrust.  

 

There is major awareness of the concerns surrounding fracking in much of the US, but not here because of Maryland’s fragile fracking moratorium.

 

Water use is a major concern.  Each well uses millions of gallons of water under high pressure to fracture underground rock and shale formations.  


Water contamination is a major concern.
  There have been numerous reports of groundwater and surface water contamination attributed to chemicals used in fracking.  Industry denies responsibility citing lack of information clearly proving their responsibility.

 

Toxic waste water disposal is a major concern.  Water retrieved from wells contains many chemicals toxic to humans and the environment.  Storage and disposal of this contaminated water brings risks from spills contaminating land and water to earthquakes from underground disposal.  Sewage treatment plants can’t detoxify it and the industry says their practices are safe.

 

Land use is a major concern.  Drilling pads, waste storage sites and roads and pipelines leading to and from drilling sites convert lots of rural land to heavy industrial use. Landowners report being mislead about the effect of fracking leases on damage to their rural lands from industrialization and pollution and lowering its future resale value.  These and other concerns often reduce the financial and esthetic values of surrounding land from home sites to farms and parks

 

Greenhouse gases are a major concern.  Fracking, along with its related processing and transportation often release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Regulation, monitoring, controls and accountability for methane releases and leaks are generally lacking and difficult to enforce across thousand of fracking sites and miles of pipelines.  Burning the gas also produces CO2.  The total climate change impact from all aspects of fracking may be greater than coal, but much research is needed to clarify the total impact.  An ethical industry would pay for research on all aspects of fracking before proceeding, instead of just saying “trust us”.

 

Why moratorium Legislation now?

Fracking is only on temporary hold in Maryland.  Governor Martin O’Malley issued an Executive Order in 2011 establishing a special commission to determine if and how fracking could be done safely in Maryland.  However, the commission lacks dedicated funding to do the studies and analyses of fracking’s impact on the human and natural environment.  Meanwhile, funding from our General Assembly for this vital work has been opposed by the industry.  Legal protections are lacking to prevent fracking before this critical research is done.

Because the Executive Order does not have  the force of law and lacks funding, the Maryland General Assembly must immediately pass legislation to temporarily prevent fracking until two steps are completed.  First, the impact studies identified in the Executive Order must be funded, completed and publicly reported to the General Assembly and citizens.  Second, legislators can decide if and how fracking is appropriate for Maryland based on complete and credible information.  Nothing less is acceptable.  

 

UUs role.

There is no legitimate need to rush ahead. The gas will wait in the ground. Avoiding industry openness and accountability is NOT a legitimate public policy goal.   Until Marylanders can make a fully informed, scientifically credible decision on whether and how to frack safely in Maryland, a leak-proof, legal moratorium on fracking is reasonable and essential.  With UUs contacting their legislators early and often, we and a broad coalition can get this done. Our General Assembly should pass this legislation in 2013 and we can help it happen!