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For those familiar with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s overuse of the liberal credit card – he does have a potential presidential run to worry about, you know – it may come as a surprise (especially to the environmentalists) that Maryland’s top official is not diametrically opposed to the practice of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking,’ the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep below the surface of the earth.
In spite of a 2011 Executive Order that effectively suspended fracking in the state for three years, O’Malley has recently alluded to fracking in Maryland no longer being a distant possibility, especially in light of the number of jobs, economic stimulus and lowered energy costs the industry would bring to the state – particularly the Western Maryland counties of Allegany and Garrett, the two areas of the state that sit atop part of the 95,000 square mile Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve.
The governor recently told a gathering of that area’s residents that the current moratorium is simply a safety precaution because of his concern regarding ground water contamination, one of the most bantered talking points among the opponents of the practice. O’Malley said that if fracking is proved to be a safe process he would welcome it as it would have a tremendous economic impact for the state’s two westernmost counties.
On May 22, Gov. O’Malley is scheduled to host the Democratic Governors Association 2013 Spring Policy Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, MD. And thanks to his seeming embrace of the fracking process, numerous anti-fracking groups will be protesting the gathering.
Led, seemingly, by the aggregate group ‘Americans Against Fracking,’ (according to the Marcellus Drilling News AAF is comprised of more than 100 “extremist anti-drilling groups”), opponents of hydraulic fracturing will march at the DGA conference in order to “tell Democratic Governors to keep fracking out of our communities!”
Nothing frightens the ‘tolerant’ left wing like a Leftist with an open mind.
For all of the propaganda being spewed forth by anti-fracking groups, an increasing number of impartial studies now show that many of the most discussed, controversial side effects of the fracturing process are not supported by facts.
One certainty among the many distortions is that natural gas extraction – like all fossil fuel removal – creates consequences for the local environment around the extraction site. The falsehoods lie in the degree to which these consequences have been exaggerated.
Thanks to the documentary “Gasland”, as well as a recent feature film entitled “Promised Land”, the Greenies often throw their loudest hissy over fracking’s supposed contaminating effect on drinking water, dramatized in the most over-the-top fashion via the flaming tap water ignited by a cigarette lighter.
In the documentary a Colorado resident is seen flicking his Bic under a running faucet as a fireball ignites into the sink. Great theater… not-so-grand representation of the truth.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission later found that the natural gas in that homeowner’s well was from natural sources and was not related to fracking.
According to a March 2013 New York Times op-ed, a study of 200 private water wells in the fracking regions of Pennsylvania uncovered one – one – where the water quality differed in before and after testing.
If there was a surprise in the test results, the New York Times reported, it was that many of the wells failed drinking water regulations before drilling started.
The Pennsylvania study should also be of particular interest to proponents in Maryland – and Governor O’Malley – because the Keystone State accesses their shale gas at depths of thousands of feet while drinking water is extracted from depths of only hundreds of feet. The state, thus far, has seen no evidence that fracking compounds injected at the thousand-plus-foot depth contaminate drinking water.
Those compounds – a concern to both sides of the debate – are another point of contention.
In a 2011 report commissioned by the Democrat-controlled Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, the fracking mixture – of which the 14 top oil and gas service companies used more than 2,500 different products – contains 750 chemicals and other components – 29 of those are listed as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
But while many of these compounds contain chemicals such as benzene, methanol and lead, just as many employ generally harmless substances such as salt and citric acid. Some companies have even noted the use of products such as walnut shells and instant coffee.
While these chemicals often return to the earth’s surface mixed with enormous amounts of water that is also used in the process most tests have found that this ‘brine’ most often contains extremely low concentrations of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt.
Opponents argue that this brine can be detrimental if not disposed of properly, leaving some states – including Maryland – trying to enact legislation that would even ban the transporting of the fracking water over state borders.
One of Maryland’s most vocal fracking critics, Del. Heather Mizeur (D – Montgomery County) has for a number of years, sponsored legislation that would expand O’Malley’s 2011 executive order to statutory moratorium status, thereby preventing any type of hydraulic fracturing through 2014.
In February, Mizeur, liberal activist and gubernatorial hopeful, penned a letter published in the Washington Post that stated a desire for factual information before Maryland aligns with an industry that has already created more than 600,000 jobs – growing to nearly 900,000 by 2015 and is expected to contribute almost $120 billion to the U.S. economy.
“We want science to inform our decisions,” Del. Mizeur wrote. “Only when we are certain that fracking is safe should we proceed.”
And what exactly constitutes safe?
Approximately one million American wells have been fracked since the 1940s, and as with any fossil fuel extraction industry there will always be a possibility of dangerous accidents – most of which involving methane gas build up and subsequent explosions.
This year, Mizeur’s bill (and its senate companion) failed again, but only failed by one vote in the state senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Waiting long enough to add one more agreeable vote to that committee seems almost as important as waiting for the science.
These legislative failures, coupled with a governor who has shown the political courage to perhaps finally do what is best for his state and not just for his potential progressive presidential voting bloc, has the anti-fracking crowd more than just a little nervous – at least more concerned than the residents of the areas where the hydraulic fracturing will take place; particularly when they are educated by more than propaganda and half-truths.
We now know that tested water wells have not shown increased contamination; that Hollywood’s version of exploding water faucets has been debunked; that fracked wells are no worse than conventional wells when it comes to increased methane; that the industry has made advancements in the process to limit such gas leaking; and have addressed the issue of disposing of the shale brine.
Pennsylvania companies now recycle 90-percent of that brine by using it to frack more shale.
Whether the Greens acknowledge it or not the science is indeed there and waiting to “inform our decisions.”
If, on the heels of an April that saw Maryland lose 6,200 more jobs in the private sector, Gov. O’Malley is serious about “moving Maryland forward,” “a growing middle class,” and “making better choices” then it is time to ignore the fear-mongering chorus and their continued song of never-ending probes and moratoriums.
As Maryland Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R – Cecil County) is fond of saying, “Opponents of fracking are trying to study it to death. This is a missed opportunity.”
Tags: Del. Heather Mizeur, Governor Martin O'Malley, Hydraulic Fracturing, Maryland Fracking, Maryland General Assembly
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