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Fracking should frighten us, despite the industry platitudes that paper over its dangers

Health InsuranceEnvironmental PoliticsEnvironmental CleanupEnergyU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyPetroleum Industry

Commentator Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.'s arguments in favor of shale oil drilling are deeply flawed ("Fracking: Don't let fear hold us back," Oct. 12). After a summer of record flooding, we are entitled to a healthy fear of what gets flushed from old wells, industrial sites and waste water holding pits.

More to the point, hydraulic fracturing to extract shale oil and gas is a frightening health threat. Dr. Walter Tsou, past president of the American Public Health Association, told the Philadelphia City Council that "politicians have explicitly avoided the public health question because if they were really confronted with it, they would stop hydraulic fracturing."

The half of 1 percent of fracking fluids that Bishop Jackson claims are "weak salts" and other minerals include carcinogens that are known to be potent even at very low concentrations. Meanwhile, state environmental protection agencies have dwindling resources to document the health threats associated with all aspects of shale gas extraction and to protect our drinking water.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, in a July 2010 memo, reported that "hydraulic fracturing is specifically exempted from regulation by the [federal] Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Water Drinking Act. "

It is not "fear tactics" for consumer advocates to ask government for assurances of safe drinking water.

Studies of the economic impact of shale gas drilling indicate there are huge costs as well as benefits. The energy industry has deep pockets to tout the benefits, while public interest advocates and local governments must struggle with shrinking budgets to document the environmental and health costs, which include spills, damage to roads and contaminated drinking wells and ground water.

Shale gas is not a clean energy source. It results in the discharge of methane gas, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Investments in shale gas drilling infrastructure divert us from investing in truly green energy technologies such as solar and wind.

Fracking does frighten me. I'm hoping a lot more citizens will develop a healthy fear of the industry with its platitudes and self-serving research and insist on holding back shale gas extraction in Maryland.

Rebecca Ruggles, Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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