ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Fighters for clean water and air are celebrating Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s sudden reversal, as he has now promised to sign into law a measure to ban fracking approved overwhelmingly by the Maryland legislature.
It will make Maryland only the second state after Vermont to outlaw hydraulic fracturing a method used to extract natural gas from deposits of shale hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface. Fracking contaminates water, soil, and air in vast regions where the technology is allowed. New York State banned fracking by executive order. Maryland had a moratorium on fracking already in place; Hogan had said he would veto a permanent ban.
Hogan had supported fracking until it became clear that both the General Assembly and the State Senate would approve the ban by a veto-proof margin. The General Assembly voted 97 to 40 for the ban and the Senate last Friday Mar. 24 approved it 35 to 10.
Hogan said, “Protecting our clean water supply and our natural resources is critically important to Marylanders and we simply cannot allow the door to be opened for fracking in our state.”
A movement of 140 organizations called “Don’t Frack Maryland” hailed the vote. The coalition staged marches, rallies, and sit-down protests here in Annapolis and across the state demanding passage of the ban. Several were arrested in a recent sit down on the State House steps.
“This law is a major step for Maryland’s path to a clean energy economy,” said Josh Tulkin, director of Maryland’s Sierra Club.
Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called the victory “a day of historic importance” predicting that the Maryland initiative will ripple to other states across the nation struggling to ban fracking.
“It’s a bright day for us in Western Maryland, absolutely, and we are very appreciative of the governor coming to his senses doing this,” said Paul Roberts, a Garrett County winemaker and president of an anti-fracking group called Citizen Shale.
Roberts’ stand underlined the strong grassroots opposition to fracking in Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland, coal mining country where the frackers were targeting the Marcellus Shale seam that runs deep underground from upstate New York, across Pennsylvania and Maryland into West Virginia. State Sen. George Edwards, a Republican, voted against the fracking ban, regurgitating President Donald Trump’s claim that nullifying all regulations on energy production will create jobs.
Fracking is even more deadly in neighboring states, especially in Pennsylvania where a movement “Marcellus Protest” is seeking a statewide ban, staging mass marches, rallies, and other protests across the Keystone State. Shale Play, a web site of National Public Radio, has identified 66 fracking operators in Pennsylvania who drilled 7,788 active wells with 4,006 violations of environmental laws. They have been fined a combined total of $6.1 million.
Among the top drillers is Range Resources Appalachia with 960 wells, and Chesapeake Appalachia with 835 wells. Another major fracker is Chevron Appalachia.
A recent report circulated by Marcellus Protest warns of a new level of menace from fracking. “Slickwater hydofracturing adds tons of toxic chemicals to the frackwater when the wastewater comes back out. It is full of even more toxic chemicals…benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, radiactive elements including radium, barium, strontium and uranium, heavy metals including lead and arsenic.”
The fracking industry, it continues, “is exempt from normal environmental protection laws…the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act. These exemptions were created by (Vice President) Dick Cheney’s Energy Task force in 2004. Halliburton (Cheney’s drilling company) profits from oil shale drilling.”