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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lessons for Maryland learned from Pennsylvania

Visiting my hometown in Pennsylvania this week I couldn't help but notice the trucks hauling water to be injected into the ground to break up the shale and release natural gas.  Northeastern PA has seen an explosion in the use of "fracking" to capture natural gas.  The Marcellus shale field follows the path of coal that this region lived on for decades.  With the collapse of coal mining in the 50's and 60's this region has rapidly declined.  Most young people, like myself, left the area after high school to pursue careers that didn't have many job opportunities in this area.  Unemployment in NE PA has always been among the highest in the state.

While Maryland has been cautious in allowing fracking PA has used the technique as a way to revitalize some economically depressed areas. The schools in my hometown (population under 2000) have been told to expect about 3000 families moving into the area in the next few years.  Rents have increased from $400 to $500 for a house to over $2,000 a month with this boom.  Renters that don't work on the gas projects have seen leases not renewed so landlords can quadruple their rents.  Some farmers who were struggling now find that the gas rights to their land might be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and banks advertise for these newly found wealthy individuals to deposit their money in specially set up accounts.

While some have propersed others have suffered.  If you have seen the movie "Gasland" you have seen the experience of homeowners in Dimmick who can light the water coming out of their faucets.  The gas released in the ground has found its way into their wells.  The gas companies have had to provide bottled water to many in Dimmick.  With the gas comes the chemicals used with the water to release the gas.  The gas companies have been exempted from many of the clean water protections under the Bush administration. Companies don't have to publically release what chemicals they are using. According to news reports,
 "The industry lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress with its claims that the "fracking fluid" should be considered "proprietary" and exempt from disclosure under federal drinking water protection laws.[5] Led by Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the industry obtained this exception in the law along with favorable treatment by political appointees and regulators in the "Environmental Protection Agency." As a result of the "Halliburton loophole" to the law, drilling companies have not been required to divulge the cocktail of chemicals that are in the fracking fluids used at each of the proposed or continuing drill sites across the country."

One can only imagine the campaign dollars that have flowed to elected officials in PA and DC by the gas companies. Gov. Corbett was given almost $200,000 in his 2010 election campaign by gas companies. It wouldn't be the first time ecomonic growth came with a high environmental cost.

Maryland has been smart to wait to see what the issues are with this process before permitting it in western Maryland. According to an AP report:

"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is urging a cautious approach to natural gas drilling in western Maryland.A spokesman says O'Malley told local farmers, landowners and environmentalists at a meeting Monday near Grantsville that his administration will consider science and safety assurances in reviewing pending applications to drill in the Marcellus Shale beneath parts of the state's western panhandle. The Maryland Petroleum Council is criticizing O'Malley for supporting legislation that would mandate a drilling study, with a report due in August 2013."

Hopefully we will not see state residents lighting their tap water in Maryland.

P.S.
Hottest gift this season?  Single cup coffee makers.  Making a pot of coffee is soooooo yesterday.  I guess this is another sign of how we live our lives together or should I say "apart."  Reminds me of the story line of the book "Bowling Alone."  It is a thought provoking read if you are looking for a good book to read.

1 comment:

kam said...

Actually, the single-cup coffee makers are great if you're the only one who likes coffee in the household and just want a cup before heading off to work. Plus it's fun to be able to try lots of different flavors.