On Friday afternoon, on St. Patrick’s Day (and a busy news day), Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) announced that he supports a ban on fracking in his state, despite a mountain of scientific evidence showing that the process is safe with manageable risks. This is a complete reversal from his position during the campaign when he voiced support for fracking, saying Maryland is “sitting on a gold mine of clean natural gas energy in western Maryland.”
As was the case two years ago when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York, Hogan’s decision was clearly based on politics and “alternative facts” rather than science. Specifically, Hogan’s decision appears to be a way to avoid a recently proposed referendum, even though the most recent poll showed a plurality of residents oppose a ban. This was evident as Hogan struggled to explain his position, contradicting himself a number of times:
“I believe with the regulations that we proposed it is possible that it could be done in a clean, environmentally safe way. But those regulations have not been enacted, and so I was never a proponent of this, but as Senator Bobby Zirkin said, if we could find the technology to have the clean extraction of natural gas, I’d be willing to consider it. But I don’t believe we have that yet.” (emphasis added)
The legislature’s hold on the draft regulations actually expired in late February, so if the Administration would simply give them an official acceptance, they would be enacted in time for the current fracking moratorium’s expiration in October. In other words, Governor Hogan has all the ability in the world to enact his regulations. But he’s choosing not to for political reasons.
Of course, the next question is: if it wasn’t really about the regulations, what scientific research did the governor rely on to back up this decision? Hogan’s only attempt to explain his reversal of course was to trot up anti-fracking Sen. Bobby Zirkin to the podium to refer vaguely to what he called “mountains of research,” “cancer clusters” near fracking sites and “many” earthquakes in Pennsylvania as the reason for the governor joining him in calling for a ban. The only specific reference Zirkin made to any actual studies was mentioning a series of Johns Hopkins University studies that, as EID has pointed out many times, were spearheaded by a researcher who works at the anti-fracking Post Carbon Institute, which we have debunked here, here and here. Each of those studies’ conclusions were contradicted by publicly available data, and failed to prove any actual link to fracking.
Meanwhile, Hogan completely ignored a report by the previous Democratic O’Malley administration, which found “the risks associated with water contamination were rated most commonly as low.” The report goes on to explain that “[r]isks are inherent in any type of mineral extraction, industrial and construction activity,” but that Maryland has regulations in place that will effectively manage the risks. As the report puts it:
“Maryland draws from its robust stormwater management, soil erosion and control, and water appropriations programs and examines the effectiveness of proposed best management practices for revising its existing gas and oil development regulations. Together, these existing and proposed practices serve to reduce many risks to western Maryland’s citizens, economy and its high quality water, air and natural resources.” (p. 2; emphasis added)
The recommendations proposed in the report rejected a ban on fracking, and instead included regulations for the largest setbacks in the country of 2,000 feet from a private water well. The Associated Press interviewed Brigid Kenney with the Department of the Environment, who explained,
“That’s twice the distance Maryland currently requires between gas wells and private water wells, and a bigger setback than any other state mandates.”
As such, in December 2014 the final regulatory study, concluded:
“It is the judgment of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources that provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.” (emphasis added)
Governor Hogan also completely ignored the research in other shale developing states (with Democratic governors by the way) such as a landmark health assessment by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) that found that “the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] oil and gas operations,” and that “results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”
A recent California Council on Science and Technology found “no documented instance of hydraulic fracturing or acid stimulations directly causing groundwater contamination in California.”
Governor Hogan told the Baltimore Sun while on the campaign trail that his “number one concern” was the extreme unemployment and job loss the state faced, particularly in Western Maryland, where shale development would occur and people were “basically crying out… ‘We need help. We need jobs. Nobody comes out here, nobody cares about us.’” Despite this, on Friday he chose politics over science and perceived environmental concerns over hard evidence of the economic advantages shale development has brought to neighboring states. Apparently, folks in Western Maryland were really never Hogan’s “number one concern” at all.