Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement that the state will move forward with establishing regulations for hydraulic fracturing — fracking — in Maryland leaves behind a terrible legacy. He has secured his place in history as the one who opened up the state to the inherent risks of the practice, which involves horizontal drilling and the fracturing of underground rock with pressurized water and chemicals to release gas deposits, despite Marylanders' growing opposition to it.
While he has been traveling the country touting his progressive credentials, the governor simultaneously mishandled the decision of whether to allow fracking in Maryland, essentially establishing a timeline for creating fracking regulations well before the key health and environmental assessments had been concluded.
It's obvious that Governor O'Malley is not the progressive leader he wants us to believe he is, and he's certainly no champion in the fight against climate change. As many of us in the movement to ban fracking have pointed out, climate leaders don't frack.
Initially, as the oil and gas industry pushed to quickly expand its fracking presence throughout the Marcellus Shale region, which has deposits in Garrett and western Allegany counties in Maryland, little was known about the effects of fracking. But scientific studies showing the negative impacts of fracking on the environment and public health have mounted ever since, and we are seeing more and more evidence that fracking threatens public health, contaminates water supplies, contributes to air pollution and climate change and even causes earthquakes. Furthermore, recent assessments from the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that there are also gas deposits in other basins in the eastern part of the state including St. Mary's, Calvert, Dorchester, Talbot, Caroline, Queen Anne's, Wicomico, Somerset, Worchester, Frederick and Montgomery counties.
Martin O'Malley always said Maryland would be different. He claimed that "if" fracking came to Maryland it would be with gold standard regulations. He ignored the growing body of evidence that even the best regulations cannot protect Marylanders from the inherent dangers of fracking.
He also ignored the people of Maryland. A recent Baltimore Sun poll showed that 58 percent of residents who were familiar with fracking believe that the process is harmful to the environment; 52 percent of those familiar with fracking support a ban. And given Governor O'Malley's larger political ambitions, he surely must recognize that the percentage of people who oppose fracking across America is growing. A 2014 Pew Research poll found that 47 percent of Americans overall oppose fracking, but within the liberal base that Mr. O'Malley depends upon, that number moves to 67 percent. Surely, those people won't be fooled into believing that Mr. O'Malley is a true environmental leader.
We know that fracking presents many health and environmental hazards. Even the most stringent regulations would still fall short of truly protecting the health and environment of Marylanders. One harsh reality sits just beneath Governor O'Malley's comments about establishing regulations more stringent than other states. Governor-elect Larry Hogan is under no obligation to complete the new regulations. Considering that Mr. Hogan has already said fracking is a "gold mine" for the state, we will not be able to trust his administration to be responsible with regulating fracking. Of course, Marylanders can also look at the record the oil and gas industry has established thus far. From Oklahoma and Colorado to Ohio and Pennsylvania, residents of states with pro-fracking governors have suffered the health and environmental consequences. Neighboring Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 243 cases of water contamination from drilling and fracking in the state.
Governor O'Malley said that, "Maryland can't afford to stick its head in the sand here," but it is the governor himself who is ignoring the scientific evidence showing fracking cannot be safely regulated. Instead of embracing the fantasy of safe fracking, he ought to have shown true leadership and been bold enough to stand up to the oil and gas industry. Governor O'Malley has made it clear that he chooses to stand with that industry over Maryland communities, undermining the efforts of thousands of Marylanders to protect the public health and the integrity of our water supply.
Now we need the legislature to act in the new year to stop fracking from moving forward.
Wenonah Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C.; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.