Chesapeake PSR

Competing fracking bills introduced

Climate Change and Energy, Fracking in MarylandTimothy WhitehouseComment

Two fracking bills have been introduced in the Maryland Senate. One is a ban bill, SB 740, that Chesapeake PSR supports. The other, SB 862, introduced and supported by the Senate Democratic leadership – undermines independent scientific inquiry and sets a terrible precedent for the development of laws and regulations designed to protect public health. (Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo cross-filed a fracking ban bill, HB 1325, in the Maryland House.)

Health, business, environmental groups, and counties and communities across the state are coming out against fracking. Why? Because it is now clear that gas development from fracking is bad for human health and bad for economic development. That is why Chesapeake PSR and over 140 groups are uniting behind SB 740 (Oil and Natural Gas – Hydraulic Fracturing – Prohibition) introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin to ban fracking in Maryland.

Our concerns focus on public health. The peer-reviewed scientific literature now includes more than 900 publications on the impacts of unconventional gas development. Of the studies looking at health impacts, the majority document risks or actuals harms. Chesapeake PSR has published two health and energy briefs on how fracking harms human health and the environment and why fracking regulations cannot protect Maryland. Read Chesapeake PSR board member Gina Angiola, MD's Baltimore Sun op-ed on why a fracking ban is the only rational choice for Maryland.

SB 862, introduced by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to conduct another fracking study and to develop a new set of fracking regulations. It then calls for referenda in local jurisdictions on whether to allow fracking. Dr. Angiola states, in a press release by the Don’t Frack Maryland coalition, By promoting yet another set of fracking regulations and a referendum, the senate leadership is evading its responsibility to protect public health. No regulations can adequately protect. And no one should be asked to vote on whether or not to poison neighbors.”

What is particularly insidious is that the Conway bill directs MDE to develop its study and base its regulations on the best practices identified by the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, and directs the state to rely on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state studies to ensure that new regulations incorporate the most protective standards.

How is this insidious? One reason is that over 80 percent of the studies on the impacts of unconventional gas development enabled by hydraulic fracturing came out after the commission issued its best practices report. Excluded from consideration by MDE in developing its regulations would be research from Johns Hopkins and other leading research institutions throughout the country. Another reason is that the fracking industry itself is directly responsible for suppressing important information on the safety of fracking. The government is working with limited information because the industry has successfully fought against air and groundwater monitoring, refused to provide the EPA with data for its seminal groundwater study, and requires those whose wells have been polluted by fracking to sign nondisclosure agreements before receiving compensation for their harm.

The Conway bill sets a dangerous precedent. If passed, it will allow the legislature to direct administrative agencies to ignore the latest science on human health when developing regulations designed to protect human health.

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