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No known regulations or “best practices” make fracking safe

Md. fracking study didn't properly account for risks to public health.

It was gratifying to see fellow members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's commission on hydraulic fracturing, Harry Weiss and Jeff Kupfer, take the time to explain their views on the former governor's proposals for new gas-drilling regulations. Trying to safeguard the public with rules last updated in 1993 — or anything less that Gov. Larry Hogan may propose — would be a terrible mistake.

We also agree with Mr. Kupfer, a Chevron executive for most of his tenure on the commission and an Energy Department lawyer during Dick Cheney's vice presidency, and Mr. Weiss, an attorney who negotiated mineral rights leases to drillers in Pennsylvania, that environmental protections are important.

The commission's only two attorneys focused on serious engineering and financial concerns. Details were sparse, however, regarding public health protections. We see this as reflecting a process marred in two ways: scientific rigor for the "best management practices" that underpin the new regulations was inadequate, and among 15 commissioners, only one served in an official capacity as a public health professional — and he wasn't appointed until two-thirds of the way through the study period.

When public health professionals play a prominent role, as in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the process, we see a very different outcome. A survey of the 400-odd peer-reviewed research studies — most done in only the last two years, due to the relative new-ness of fracking in populated areas such as the Eastern U.S. — shows that some 96 percent of studies that investigated public health impacts indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.

In our view, the decision to move forward in Maryland was made without enough regard for the health hazards identified. No amount of "tweaking regs" can materially improve, for instance, failures with cement casings scrutinized in industry conferences and seminars for 20 years! The fact is industry knows the major problems. What's also clear to us is that there's simply no good evidence this industry, backed by the strongest lobby in America, can be regulated effectively.

Finally, our full disclosure: We think the governor erred in his decision to move forward with fracking, and we endorse legislation to put in place a moratorium, until the scientific evidence shows fracking can be done without jeopardizing the health of families in western Maryland.

Paul Roberts and Annie Bristow

The writers were members of the governor's commission on hydraulic fracturing.

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