garrett county maryland farm

March 2, 2017

Governor Larry Hogan
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor Hogan:
An estimated one thousand people participated in the anti-fracking rally today in Annapolis. We all were there because we love and are concerned for our state. We value Maryland’s natural resources and beauty –its mountains, its ocean and shores, its abundant estuary. We were there because we feel a sense of urgency that we need to protect Maryland’s environment, not just for ourselves, but for future generations. The essayist Wendell Berry has been warning us about the moral, social, and ecological bankruptcy of industrial society. The pope in his recent encyclical did the same. I am hoping that you and our leaders in Annapolis listen to these thinkers and 1,000 of us today who recognize fracking for what it is – it is short term exploitation of our natural resources with long term consequences.

You have heard ad nauseam all the arguments for and against fracking. There is no valid rationale for risking western Maryland so that this gas can be sold overseas. This is wrong. Please do not expose the residents in Garrett and Allegany counties to the pollution and dangers of fracking. The chance of permanently losing their water is real – and their air and roads will be impacted immediately – why do you want to do this?

There are too many reasons why fracking is just not worth the risks. I ask you to support a total ban on fracking in Maryland. I ask all in our Maryland Assembly to do the right thing – stand up to special interests, and consider what is right for future generations. We don’t own the land; it is owned by our children.

December 21, 2016

A close friend asked me a good question the other evening. If fracking is so bad, then why is it being done so much and promoted so much? I’ve had the same question, and I keep coming to one conclusion – money. But that answer is too simplistic and not very convincing. How can I answer his question succinctly? I’m not sure that I can.

My friend has a science background and understands the issues with CO2 emissions and its impact to climate change so I don’t need to start with that argument. Arguments about potential risks to our water supply, and arguments about health risks and impacts to local communities don’t answer the question either. Besides, my friend wasn’t questioning whether fracking was bad, he was questioning why we frack if we know that it’s bad.

You often hear the expression “follow the money” which detectives do to solve a crime. I think that might be the approach to use here. We can divide people into three broad camps with respect to fracking – (1) those who are for it, (2) those who are against it, and (3) the undecided.

In the “for it” camp, we have the energy industry, the construction industry, some politicians, and even business people with businesses not directly related to the industry, but who benefit when fracking occurs. (The motel owner lodging some of the fracking workers, the local diner owner who sells food, seed companies, maybe even the company who supplies uniforms to workers, etc.)

Obviously the energy industry is in it for the revenue -- their spreadsheets tell them they can make money if they frack as long as the price stays above a certain level. The construction unions are for fracking because they see jobs being generated for their members. (However, they should be asking: "For how long?") The land owners who expect to lease their land and receive royalties are for it. In the “for it” camp we should include people who want to pay less money for gasoline to commute and for fuel to heat their houses.

The politicans do not necessarily make money themselves from fracking (usually), but some believe fracking will improve the economy – more jobs, more revenue from taxes on the product, fees from the drilling, jobs for the government officials hired to regulate the industry, and so on. They will be looking at the big picture on paper. They will note that there are some risks associated with fracking, but they will discount these because of the potential benefits. The human story gets reduced to statistics and numbers. If 100 wells are dug, and only 3% create contamination problems, then 97% were fine. The people who were directly impacted by the 3% – they can make claims and be compensated…

The number of jobs created due to fracking is vague. Fracking itself – digging a well in the ground for a few months does not create permanent jobs. Even hauling the 5 million gallons of water to the fracking site ends. So unless you keep digging more and more wells, at some point the area is fracked to a saturation point and the jobs trickle down. Boom and bust cycles have repeated throughout the industry. (Google “boom or bust fracking.”)

Section III C. on page 1294 of Maryland's proposed fracking regulations states: “There is a potential for a positive economic impact to local jurisdictions if roads are improved or maintained at the cost of the exploration or drilling company.“ If. The logic is basically -- let them damage our roads, and then maybe they will fix them. Similar logic is used later on the same page: “…there will be positive economic impacts to real estate professionals and tourism related businesses in Garrett and Allegany Counties as a result of replacing the existing regulations with these more stringent regulations. The protections included in these regulations will help to minimize any negative impact to property values that may result from drilling activity,…” “Will help to minimize.” So the regulations are saying that there is the possibility that property values will be impacted, but these regulations will help when that occurs. How much help? Who will compensate the landowners and real estate professionals when the values of properties decrease? The regulations’ wording doesn’t guarantee anything. A safer and more accurate conclusion in Maryland should be “Let’s not frack, and then the property values will not be negatively impacted by fracking.”

Fracking is a short term solution to a long term problem. Our economy has shifted – unfortunately for many workers, their jobs have been replaced by technology or other changes in the economy. Fracking jobs will help some workers and families for a few years, but at some point these jobs go away. Then it’s back to square one. Why aren’t the energy companies, especially the huge ones such as Exxon, taking a more forward looking approach about using sustainable energy sources? Most likely it is the same mindset as expressed on Donald Trump’s great again website: ”… Energy is the lifeblood of modern society. It is the industry that fuels all other industries. We will lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities. It’s all upside: more jobs, more revenues, more wealth, higher wages, and lower energy prices.” (italics mine). Wealth. No mention about health. Health of the workers, health of the communities where the extracting goes on, health of the planet.

I think the “against it” crowd are more future oriented – they are concerned that we will have various climactic catastrophes because of increased temperatures resulting from the burning of carbon-based fuels. People against fracking are concerned about the very real dangers and health risks and the diminished quality of life associated with the fracking process. (Having 1000 large diesel trucks going up and down country roads does not increase anybody’s quality of life.)

I also think this group is not as much concerned about the “me,” but more about the “we.” (It is true that some will personally benefit by keeping fracking out of their back yards and avoiding the industrialization of their immediate vicinity. But in general, they are not opposing fracking because of monetary issues, but more so because of altruistic reasons.

In the “for fracking” camp, it’s all about money -- "How can we make more?" or "How can I save money?" There doesn’t seem to be much thought about the future, but just an emphasis on the now. The earlier Trump page I cited is titled “Energy Independence.” That implies that America will use its energy sources to be independent. There is no mention of exporting the oil or gas from the U.S. to overseas markets. Exporting our energy resources doesn't make us energy independent. However, it will cause us to be more dependent later when those resources are gone.

In Maryland, a gas exporting plant is being built against the wishes of the community it is located in – Cove Point, in southern Maryland. The purpose of that facility is to enable the gas industry to export its product. The people who profit from the exporting of that gas are the investors and the companies involved in selling the gas.

Maybe Pink Floyd had the lyrics wrong – Money, it’s a gas. From the industry’s perspective, the lyrics should have been “gas, it’s money.” Later in the same song, the lyrics go “… Money, so they say, Is the root of all evil today.”

November 22, 2016

What Happens in Vegas... Why is it difficult to get our politicans to listen to the people they were elected by? Because too often our government leaders do not distance themselves from lobbyists who solicit their attention. It would be interesting to know how much money the American Petroleum Institute and its affiliate, the Maryland Petroleum Council, have been spending in Maryland to get fracking passed.

On their LinkedIn page, the lobbying firm Harris Jones & Malone, LLC, states: "Harris Jones & Malone, LLC, provides lobbying and government relations services throughout the State of Maryland, complemented by an experienced criminal, litigation, procurement, government contracting and labor law practice. Utilizing strong advocacy and negotiation skills, combined with a well-established network of political and governmental contacts, HJM has a strong track record of delivering excellent results for its clients."

According to the Baltimore Brew and other sources, various Maryland and Baltimore elected officials traveled to Las Vegas to attend the wedding of the principals of the lobbying firm, Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Russell Malone. Maryland’s Fracking Ban Goes Up Against Corporate Democrats (Article in Counterpunch, November 17, 2016

API - American Petroleum Institute

From the Maryland List 6 of Regulated Lobbyists (API - American Petroleum Institute)

August 30, 2016

On Tuesday, August 30th, I attended two of the public sessions at Garrett College arranged by Maryland's Environment and Transportation Committee to hear arguments for and against fracking. From the points made, three main issues seem to be comingled around the frack/don’t frack question:

Economic Development

Many people, including Governor Hogan, suggest that fracking will bring economic growth to Maryland's two western counties. But their arguments are sometimes convoluted. At the "pro fracking" panel hearing on the 30th, the Maryland Petroleum Council executive director said that constructing a fracking site only requires about “8-12 weeks” (attempting to downplay the messiness of fracking site construction and the resulting industrialization of former farmland). If 8-12 weeks is truly the time needed for construction, unless many wells are dug, then not many permanent construction jobs will develop. However, there will be driving jobs for those with a Commercial Driver’s License, since each site will require on average 5 million gallons of water to be hauled across small county roads. (How many trips is that? For one site, 1000 trips!) The roads were not designed for that traffic.

The economic development logic gets even more convoluted. The MD Department of the Environment, in their “Proposed Action on Regulations“, indicates there is a potential for a positive economic impact to local jurisdictions if roads are improved or maintained at the cost of the exploration or drilling company. In other words, there will be economic benefits because the roads will be severely damaged to the point that the companies will be held liable to repair them.

The same document also states: “There will be positive economic impacts to real estate professionals and tourism related businesses in Garrett and Allegany Counties as a result of replacing the existing regulations with these more stringent regulations. … Stronger regulations for oil and gas drilling will also benefit the tourism industry and tourism related businesses by ensuring better protection of the natural environment which is the driver for much of the tourism in these two Counties.” Apparently the MDE recognizes that tourism industry is important, but by allowing fracking, with regulations, the tourism industry will benefit. Right… Here’s one more excerpt: “The regulations will minimize the impacts from drilling to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources in these two Counties. By minimizing these impacts, the general citizenry of the two Counties will benefit from enhanced public health protection and safety, including better protections for air quality and sources of drinking water. Additionally, the natural environment of the two Counties will be better protected, including forests, rivers, streams and other water bodies, wildlife, flora and fauna.”

They just don’t get it. Fracking is a physical process. A very mucky, industrial process. To frack requires a lot of equipment, a lot of manpower, a lot of engineering. (It is amazing actually that the industry has figured out ways to get oil and gas from two miles below.) So in doing this very industrial process, Maryland will be protected because some words were written on paper?

Landowner’s Rights

A dozen or so of Garrett County landowners testified at the evening public hearing in McHenry on August 30 that they had farmed their lands for many years, they had worked hard, and that they had the right to sell their mineral rights. Undoubtedly these were hard working individuals who had toiled the land most of their lives. Selling their mineral rights is another way to help them continue to own and manage their land. They probably wouldn’t lease their land if they truly believed fracking was dangerous and might ruin the property. So do they have the right to lease their land? It is their land – they own it. But what about their neighbors who don’t want fracking?

The fracking industry has managed, with the help of willing governments, to implement various laws that essentially are “eminent domain.” By the “rule of capture,” the holdout (landowner) is generally not entitled to compensation from the collection and sale of the natural gas underneath their property, because it is difficult to prove exactly whose property produced the natural gas. Another legal tool, called “forced pooling” can force holdouts to lease their mineral rights. Forced pooling, known as “compulsory pooling” in North Carolina, gives states the right to compel a non-consenting landowner into a mineral rights lease. Is that fair? Is it fair when a neighbor’s property is damaged because of the fracking occurring nearby? The fracking industry is not risk free – it has a record of accidents.

Fracking’s Impact on Garrett County

At the hearing, people voiced their concerns about drinking water getting contaminated. A rafting and kayaking business owner said he would most likely relocate. A knowledgable woman from the tourism industry feared tourists will go elsewhere. Landowners around Deep Creek Lake expressed concern that the lake would get ruined. Several people said that their real estate values would go down, based on what has happened in other fracked communities. An Emergency Medical Responder, based on his experience in Somerset County PA, stated that the Fire Departments in Garrett County were ill equipped and would not be able to continue as volunteer departments – he suggested that tax rates will be raised to pay for fire department personnel if fracking occurs in Garrett County. An organic farmer said the only assets a farmer has is his soil and water and once they are damaged, then farming isn't an option anymore.

At evening's end, the majority of attendees still remaining were definitely against fracking. The majority who testified that night were strongly opposed to fracking. So what should the government do? How does government “promote the general welfare?” Whose welfare – a few, or many? A few citizens living now, or future generations?