Tuesday 23 October 2018

Maryland Senate Passes Weakened Fracking Moratorium Bill

Cuts Moratorium Length to Two Years and Mandates Regulations

 

(Annapolis, MD - April 7, 2015) The Maryland Senate passed an amended version of a fracking moratorium in last night’s legislative session. The amended bill, known as SB409, requires Governor Hogan’s Administration to adopt regulations by October 1, 2016, to provide for hydraulic fracturing in Maryland, but prohibits any permits for the exploration or production of gas to be issued before October 1, 2017.

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 18 independent nonprofit Waterkeeper organizations, expressed disappointment with the current language in the bill, which would put Maryland on a path to begin fracking in two years. The legislation now heads to the House of Delegates.

 

“We are very concerned that the General Assembly ignored calls for a long-term moratorium despite the growing body of scientific evidence documenting significant health and environmental harms caused by fracking,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “With the current technology, no amount of regulations can make the risks of fracking acceptable. If this bill becomes law, we call on the General Assembly to move quickly in the next two years to establish a more rigorous long-term moratorium to protect our health and communities from irreversible harm.”

 

The original proposed legislation imposed an eight-year moratorium on the issuing of permits to frack in Maryland. In addition, it set up an expert panel to review additional health and environmental studies on the cumulative and long-term effects of hydraulic fracturing, and make a determination whether fracking could be done safely in Maryland. These protective provisions were all removed from the amended bill that passed the Senate.

 

Waterkeeper groups believe that existing evidence indicates that fracking cannot be carried out in a way that adequately protects public health or the environment.

  

On February 5, 2015, over 120 medical and health professional sent a letter to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch stating, “Until independent scientific information to determine the nature and level of public health risks and whether those risks can be managed effectively, it is vital for the General Assembly to protect the health of Maryland residents by preventing unconventional gas development and production from beginning prematurely in our state.”

 

“The past few months have seen a groundswell of opposition to fracking emerge in Western Maryland,” says Robin Broder, a homeowner in Garrett County and a member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake Board of Directors. “The list of local businesses asking for a long-term moratorium on fracking continues to grow. They do not want to see the local economy and property values sacrificed to the out of state natural gas industry.”

 

A recent poll showed that a majority of residents throughout Maryland support a long-term moratorium on fracking, and indicated that the public is looking for leadership from the General Assembly.

 

“The General Assembly needs to ensure that the pressure to implement regulations does not supersede the public notice process,” said Nicholas. “We are highly skeptical that the Department of the Environment has the resources and capacity to draft fracking regulations, oversee compliance and conduct effective enforcement.”

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and its member groups will continue efforts in the next two years to ensure that the public’s interests are heard and that our communities, land, and water are protected.

 

Contact:  Robin Broder, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.703-786-8172

 

DOWNLOAD FULL STATEMENT

 

Environmental advocates have been working to update Maryland's 45-year old Public Information Act through state legislation ("Senate OKs rewrite of public information law," March 24). There is certainly plenty of room for improvement -- Maryland received an "F" in government transparency from the State Integrity Project. The new legislation creates better oversight, tightens timelines to respond to public information requests and requires proper justification for denials.

 

Clean water and clean air advocates have been stymied when requesting information from state or local governments -- but we're not the only ones.
 
I testified in support of this legislation alongside newspaper editors, government watchdog groups, social justice organizations and private citizens. The only organizations that testified publicly in opposition to the bill were the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Grain Producers. Why do they oppose common sense reforms to Maryland's public information law?
 
The agriculture industry -- the largest polluter to the Chesapeake Bay -- receives special treatment under existing law. For instance, information about state-required pollution plans for many farms are kept secret, hidden from Maryland taxpayers, along with enforcement records for these farms. State governments invest millions of dollars to reduce pollution from farms and we deserve some level of accountability to ensure that funding is being well spent. Unfortunately, the powerful corporate agriculture lobby was successfully able to strip any provisions relating to agricultural transparency out of the legislation.
 
The amended legislation moving through the General Assembly is still critically important because it will make it easier for Marylanders to get public information they deserve to see. The bill improves a law that hasn't been updated since Marvin Mandel was governor. But it won't fix everything that is wrong with government transparency in the Free State. Open government advocates will continue working to shine a light on public information to get better access and accountability from all industries that pollute our environment -- no exceptions or exemptions.
 
 

Today, Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expressing strong opposition to the inclusion of the Mid- and South Atlantic planning areas in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 18 independent Waterkeeper programs located in the Chesapeake Bay region, includes the Assateague Coastkeeper at Assateague Coastal Trust and the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments on behalf of all 18 programs and the residents they represent in recognition that allowing offshore drilling for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast will have vast and long-lasting impacts on this region’s environment, public health, economy and communities. The cumulative effects of offshore drilling need to be considered.

The Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) coastal area are fragile, constantly changing ecosystems. Maintaining the health of these ecosystems is critical to preserving the way of life that is unique to the Bay and the shore, a way of life that is dependent upon clean water that is swimmable and fishable.

For the first time in recent history the Mid-Atlantic coastline could potentially be open to offshore deepwater drilling for oil, and underwater fracking wells for natural gas. The Mid- and South-Atlantic areas should be removed from the proposed plan for the following reasons:

  • Offshore drilling could risk millions of jobs, critical marine ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and tourism industries along the Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Opening the Atlantic to oil and gas leasing would lead to more seismic testing in the Atlantic, putting wildlife and fisheries at risk.
  • The potential benefits of offshore drilling in the Atlantic are not worth the risk to the coastal regions and the Chesapeake Bay economically and environmentally.
  • Alternative energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation as the alternatives to expanded offshore drilling should be considered in the PEIS.
  • Expanding offshore drilling in the Atlantic will only deepen our dependence on oil and gas, and worsen the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

For the reasons stated above, Waterkeepers Chesapeake requested that the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas be removed from BOEM’s 2011-2022 Draft Proposed Plan for OCS Resources. Furthermore, Waterkeepers Chesapeake requested public hearings on BOEM’s 2017-2022 OCS Resource Plan as required when there may be substantial environmental controversy concerning the environmental effects of the proposed action (40 CFR 1506.6 (c)).

For additional information about Atlantic Coast offshore drilling, visit Assateague Coastkeeper's website. And follow #MyEastCoast and #NotOffMyCoast on social media.

Download full statements: DPP and PEIS