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Fracking opposition goes too far

Recently, my colleague from Montgomery County, Del. Heather Mizeur, took to the pages of this newspaper to proclaim her intentions to introduce a ban on hydraulic fracturing ("No studies? No fracking," Sept. 13). Her motivation is simple: Because the General Assembly did not approve her bill, she is now talking of circumventing the very work of the Marcellus Shale Commission on which she was appointed to serve. The delegate stated in her opinion piece, "This moratorium will stay in place until and unless we have a science-based review of all the safety risks involved." Imagine the repercussions if other decision makers of the past employed this logic. We would be using horse-drawn carriages to go to work rather than cars because we are still working out all of the safety risks involved with the internal combustion engine, and forget air travel.

What is even more interesting is that the same scrutiny has not been applied to any other energy technologies, such as wind. For example, over the last several General Assembly sessions, I have been the sponsor of a bill that would provide certain setback requirements for wind turbines that are placed on Garrett County's mountaintops. The problem is a simple safety concern. We, as the state, should be concerned about whether one of these turbines would fall on a neighboring house. Yet that bill has been rejected several times, and a green light has been given to wind developers to place these turbines as they will. It has also been reported throughout the environmental community that wind turbines are the equivalent of a food processor for migratory birds and indigenous bats. There are also reports that people living near wind turbines may be prone to chronic headaches, ringing in the ears, and sleep deprivation. Where is the delegate from Montgomery County's exacting safety standards in this instance?

Delegate Mizeur points out the hyperbole of the natural gas industry, but as the parable famously states, she neglects to see the plank in her own eye. Talk of the Chesapeake Bay on fire, flaming water faucets, earthquakes, and the like are without substantial scientific evidence in and of themselves. In painting this "sky is falling" picture of flaming water that would make even Chicken Little blush, my colleague is implicitly making a reference to drilling operations in and around Dimock, Pa. Yet, as recently as May of this year, the EPA, after extensive investigation, has stated unequivocally that there is no evidence to link hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale formation to Dimock's poor water quality. Undeterred by this fact, the delegate continues to put forth this flaming water scenario.

The truth is that when Delegate Mizeur put forward her bills in previous sessions to assess fees on the holders of gas leases to fund the current study of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Commission, the industry was willing to pay a fee on a per-acre basis. In exchange for the millions of dollars sought to fund the study, the industry requested that it would be permitted to drill exploratory wells at their own expense and under the supervision of the Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Department of Natural Resources to accommodate the study on an active drill site here in Maryland. Upon the successful completion of the exploratory well, the industry sought to put that well in production at some future date if recoverable gas was captured. This accommodation in exchange for the million dollars or more that the industry was required to pay to support the study was rebuffed by the bill's sponsors, who were unwilling to compromise.

Name one other business or industry currently in Maryland that is required to finance a study to determine if they will be permitted to operate in the state? This unwillingness to come to the table and continue discussions killed her bill. Now, she blames the industry, their lobbyists, and "money and backroom access."

I represent almost exclusively the Marcellus Shale region of the state. This issue may be a platform for the delegate who, as this paper has proclaimed, is the "dark horse" of the 2014 gubernatorial contest, but for the people of Garrett and Allegany counties, it means financial opportunity, economic stimulus, and jobs.

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel

The writer, a Republican, represents District 1A, Garrett and Allegany counties, in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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