Opponents of Proposed Maryland Fracking Ban Make Their Voices Heard
Dozens of landowners, business owners, union members and concerned residents gathered in Annapolis earlier this week to tell the Maryland Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs that they do not want a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state. Maryland is currently under a moratorium on fracking that is set to expire in October, but two new bills — House Bill 1325 and Senate Bill 740 — if passed, would enact a permanent ban on a process that a 2014 Towson University study found could bring major benefits to the state.
A recent Goucher poll found that 40 percent of Marylanders oppose a ban on fracking, while 36 percent support one. Let’s take a look at what folks from both sides of the argument had to say during this week’s hearing:
Rallying for Opportunity
Attendees testified to a multitude of reasons why they felt strongly enough against passing a ban on fracking to make the long trek from Garrett County to Annapolis. Fracking in western Maryland has advantages that far outweigh the costs, providing jobs to those who need them most and providing a more affordable, cleaner energy alternative.
Jobs and the Economy
As Mike O’Halloran with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said during his testimony,
“We’re talking about a part of our state that for all intents and purposes is an economically depressed part of our state. It is in that vein that NFIB is opposed to prohibiting natural gas extraction in this area because of the jobs that we proffer will come. We’re talking about jobs whether it’s construction or trucking. These are good paying jobs and they’re jobs that are needed in western Maryland.”
Chuck Cook, testifying on behalf of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of 55 unions representing 12.5 million working men and women across the country, broke it down even further:
“Each well would require approximately 420 [workers] from 150 occupations to bring a single well online. It is projected that approximately 365 wells could be drilled,“ resulting in thousands of good paying jobs.
Activists at the hearing argued the coming jobs would only be temporary and given to out-of-state workers. However, a 2014 study from the Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) at Towson University found shale development will provide many long-term benefits, especially for western Maryland.
The study looked at overall economic impacts in Garrett and Allegheny counties given two scenarios: the development of 25 percent of the resources available (Scenario 1) and 75 percent of the resources available (Scenario 2). From the study:
Scenario 1 – 25 percent extraction
- During the development years, the greatest change from the baseline will occur in 2021, adding 546 jobs, $51.2 million in output, and $13.5 million in wages.
- During the height of drilling activity, tax revenues will increase annually by $0.6 million on average. During the period after active drilling, tax revenues will increase by $0.3 million annually.
- During the development years, the greatest change from the baseline will occur in 2021, adding 1,294 jobs, $143.4 million in output, and $35.6 million in wages.
- During the height of drilling activity, tax revenues will increase annually by $2.4 million on average. During the period after active drilling, tax revenues will increase by $0.8 million annually.
Scenario 2 – 75 percent extraction
- During the development years, the greatest change from the baseline will occur in 2024, adding 952 jobs, $102.4 million in output, and $26.9 million in wages.
- During the height of drilling activity, tax revenues will increase annually by $1.7 million on average. During the period after active drilling, tax revenues will increase by $0.7 million annually.
- During the development years, the greatest change from the baseline will occur in 2021, adding 2,743 jobs, $341.8 million in output, and $80.2 million in wages.
- During the height of drilling activity, tax revenues will increase annually by $4.4 million on average. During the period after active drilling, tax revenues will increase by $0.9 million annually.
As part of the economic discussion, those testifying in favor of banning fracking in Maryland expressed concerns over the potential impact’s to Maryland’s tourism industry, and given the high number of individuals that call Western Maryland their “second home,” how the practice could effect property values.
For example, Jean White explained that she and her husband own two homes in Garrett County and she worries about the effects fracking will have on real estate, saying, “People will sell. I will sell! The moment I hear they’ve approved fracking we will sell our house.”
White also claimed areas she’s visited where fracking takes place in West Virginia are no longer as beautiful as they once were.
“I’ve met people that live there and I understand what’s happened to their property values. They’ve dropped immediately.”
Fortunately for residents or visitors with these concerns these anecdotal stories aren’t an accurate depiction of what’s occurring. It has been demonstrated in other states that nearby fracking can actually increase property values and the overall wealth of communities.
Researchers from Southern Utah University and Utah State University released a study 2016 entitled The Role of Oil and Gas and Amenities in County Economic Development, which found that energy extraction can have a direct role in promoting local economic sectors, property values, and quality of life. From the study:
“High value amenity development and high value energy development can increase property values, raise the cost of living, and result in inter-county migration. Energy extraction operations offer higher-paying jobs, while hospitality and recreation operations employ greater numbers of people. A county’s economic well-being depends on having both high-paying jobs and a large number of jobs.”
In fact, some of the most heavily developed Pennsylvania shale counties have seen significant increases in property values since 2000, when there were no shale wells in the state. According to City-Data.com, Bradford County’s median house value in 2013 was $119,536 — a 61.5 percent increase since 2000 when it was at $74,000. More than 1,200 wells were drilled in the county during that time. And Washington County had an even higher increase of over 70 percent, going from a median value of $84,500 in 2000 to $145,300 in 2013, despite having over 1,600 wells in the county by that time.
Tourism has also been positively impacted in neighboring Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. For instance, according to Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober:
“The numerous tourism attractions, as well as business conducted by the energy industry, were responsible for generating $754.7 million in direct visitor spending in 2013, and supported 5,957 jobs.”
Shober also explained:
“In their most recent report, the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development found that in 2012 direct visitor spending dollars in Washington County was $740.7 million up from $669.2 million in 2011. This is a nearly 11 percent increase.”
A 2013 study conducted by Southern Utah University and Utah State University, with funding from the American Petroleum Institute (API), examined how counties across the nation are balancing two key industries: energy production and amenity development, a term used to describe a number of activities related to outdoor recreation. From the study:
“Energy development can directly promote the amenity sector by providing counties the funding necessary to develop and market available amenities. Together, these two sectors can comprise an integral part of a county’s economy. Though some research promotes one type of development as preferable to another, a more nuanced reading of the literature suggests that counties that try to balance energy extraction activities and amenity development have healthier economies.” (p.7)
This study specifically looked at one of the most heavily developed areas in the Marcellus, Bradford County, and found,
“Natural gas drilling in Bradford County has had positive economic benefits such as job creation, increased household income from lease and royalty payouts, and increased tax revenues. Lease and royalty payments have been used to strengthen other industries in the county (e.g., agriculture, hotels), which creates a strong and growing mixed economy. Additionally, tax revenue increases have allowed government officials to increase government spending and support of tourism and amenity ventures. Bradford County clearly demonstrates that energy extraction and amenity development are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they together provide positive economic outcomes for county residents.” (p.108)
More affordable energy
But jobs and an increase in economic stimulation weren’t the only benefits discussed by attendees. As activists claimed that the state doesn’t need natural gas, with one woman even mentioning the use of “chicken poop and human feces” as an alternative energy source, those opposed to a ban offered realistic facts as to just how important this more affordable energy source is to residents.
Derrick Hollie, President of Reaching America, talked to EID after giving his testimony:
“I’m a resident of Maryland and I just feel like we need to take advantage of our own natural resources that we have here at home to go toward lowering the cost of energy. I think we’ve been misled in a lot of ways in terms of what’s going on with energy.”
In his testimony, Hollie described how the development of Maryland’s natural resources could help to bridge the energy gap for the state’s minority population:
“This year Maryland has an opportunity to move our state forward by helping businesses create jobs, providing safe, clean, affordable energy for our people, helping get minorities out of poverty, and leveling the playing field with other energy-producing states…
“Energy poverty occurs when households are unable to afford their basic electric and heating needs because of high energy prices. High energy prices are destructive for all segments of the population, but for the black community the impact is even worse.
“Right now, 1,113,342 homes in Maryland are heated by natural gas, and millions more are powered in part by burning natural gas. Harnessing Maryland’s energy potential will help narrow the energy gap by ensuring African American households are just as warm and secure as everyone else’s.”
Mechanical engineer, Wayne Adamson, also spoke of the increased use of natural gas in his testimony,
“Two-thirds of the natural gas now produced in this country is from fracking. If you think that we’re not doing fracking and using it here in Maryland you’re badly mistaken. I use natural gas and I’m convinced that it works pretty good for me, for heating my house, and I’d like to have it continue. I think a permanent ban is unbelievably regressive.”
Activists Continued to Push Misinformation on Fracking, Public Health and Groundwater
Of course, public health and impacts to groundwater were also major talking points for those in favor of a ban, including some activists from out-of-state:
Claim: Fracking will negatively impact human health.
Fact: Activists at the hearing noted studies done by Johns Hopkins University and Yale University that claim fracking is related to serious ailments such as cancer, birth defects and asthma. Activists at the hearing in Annapolis cited the Johns Hopkins study as evidence amongst a growing body that fracking is directly linked to serious respiratory illnesses.
Uni Blake, a toxicologist with API testified about the serious flaws of the Yale and Johns Hopkins studies. Notably, she discussed the fact that these studies modeled exposure, instead of actually measuring exposure with samples taken from the study region. She explained that when you model exposure, you have to make a lot of assumptions, which leads to uncertainty. This uncertainty makes it very difficult to contribute to a body of evidence.
For instance, the authors of the Johns Hopkins study claim that fracking exacerbates asthma despite admitting they have no data to prove this link. The authors state,
“Residential UNGD activity metrics were statistically associated with increased risk of mild, moderate, and severe asthma exacerbations. Whether these associations are causal awaits further investigation, including more detailed exposure assessment.” (pg. 1)
In fact, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health data on asthma hospitalizations actually show a decrease in rates of asthma hospitalizations at the same time shale development has increased. And here are what asthma rates look like in the top oil producing states:
As Reuters reported the Johns Hopkins asthma study did not prove that fracking causes asthma nor did it prove that fracking makes the symptoms of fracking worse. But headlines rarely match reality when it comes to studies of this nature.
On the contrary, data shows that hydraulic fracturing has had an enormous benefit environmentally. EPA data shows that between 2005 and 2013, sulfur dioxide levels in the United States decreased by 68 percent while natural gas production during that same time period skyrocketed.
Natural gas has also led to a sharp decrease in particulate matter (PM 2.5), which is linked to a number of serious respiratory problems. EPA data shows that between 2005 and 2013 particulate matter decreased by 60 percent, while in the same time period, U.S. natural gas production increased by 34 percent and natural gas-fired electricity generation increased by 50 percent. The EPA also reports that methane emissions from natural gas systems have fallen by 18 percent since 1990 while natural gas production has increased by 52 percent.
As Erik Milito, Director of Upstream and Industry Operations for API, explained in his testimony, the transition to natural gas for electricity generation has reduced total national annual health damages by $20-50 billion annually.
Claim: Fracking will harm water supplies.
Fact: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its comprehensive five-year study of the potential impacts from fracking on groundwater in December, concluding that hydraulic fracturing has not been found to cause widespread, systemic impacts on groundwater. In the final report, the agency found that the number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small compared to the total number of hydraulically fractured wells. In fact, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Thomas Burke recently told CBS This Morning that “the overall incidence of impacts is low.”
“This new study is important in terms of finding no significant effects on groundwater quality from shale gas development within the area of sampling.”
And Yale University found “…no evidence for direct communication with shallow drinking water wells due to upward migration from shale horizons.”
Many of the fears expressed by Maryland residents have been studied and can be alleviated by looking at other shale regions and the data that has been produced in those areas. This data show that economic gain does not come at the expense of the environment.
Maryland stands to gain massive economic benefits from allowing hydraulic fracturing to occur inside its borders. Natural gas extraction will provide the citizens of Maryland with thousands of high-paying jobs and large tax revenues which will benefit all aspects of life in the Old Line state. The state already uses a substantial amount of natural gas, and allowing the development of this resource will benefit residents across the state with more affordable energy options.
As 40 percent of Marylanders noted in the recent Goucher poll, a ban on fracking is not the answer for the Old Line State.