Drilling for natural gas will soon be coming to Western Maryland, splitting camps into those who think it is no different than other industries and others with environmental concerns. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)
As a Baltimore City resident and a homeowner in Garrett County, I think the most recent round of regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment fall far short of adequately protecting the environment and citizens from the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.
The MDE's proposals make it clear that the only "regulatory" course of action is for the public's representatives in Annapolis to approve a complete ban on fracking next year.
In recent years we have gone from a mandate in which the state would only permit fracking if there were no "unacceptable" risks, to a set of proposals that accepted some moderate and high-level risks, and finally to the current proposal, which reduces previous protections and seeks to codify moderate and high-level risks as the norm.
The latest proposals increase the drilling site well pad setbacks from personal water wells from their previously proposed 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. This is an improvement but still far from adequate.
The governor's commission previously identified 2,000 feet as posing a moderate risk; a minimum of 3,200 feet would pose a low-level risk and be much safer. The new regulations propose only a 300-foot setback from streams and wetlands.
Keep in mind that fracking could well come to over half of the state. Citizens should seriously consider whether it is acceptable to have hydraulic fracturing operations a mere 300 feet from streams, rivers, wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay.
Nobody, except those who stand to make a profit, wants their natural environments industrialized in this way. Nobody wants the dangers of fracking in their backyard.
In its June 2016 proposals, the MDE identified fracking restrictions for Western Maryland watersheds that eventually flow into the Potomac River and through heavily populated areas of the state.
In the recent proposal, MDE adds the Deep Creek Lake watershed to its restricted list, in what can only be considered a cynical effort to appease wealthy property owners. Of course, most people on Deep Creek Lake know that fracking anywhere in Western Maryland destroys the natural environment as well as their property values on the lake.
Even so these protections still leave two-thirds of Garrett County — the Youghiogheny River watershed — vulnerable to the dangers of fracking.
Implicit in MDE's proposed watershed restrictions is the idea that these environments and the people who live there need to be protected from the harms of unregulated industrialization. But apparently the environment and people in the Youghiogheny Watershed don't merit such protections.
In what amounts to a "get a bigger hammer" approach, MDE suggests adding another layer of well-casing in drilling operations. Again, implicit in this idea is an acknowledgment that well casings are imperfect and that they frequently fail, allowing flow back contaminants to seep into the ground and contaminate water supplies, animals and people.
As for the methane emissions that contribute even more to global warming and climate change than carbon dioxide, MDE essentially leaves that responsibility to the gas industry itself.
It's clear that MDE is under-resourced and unprepared to regulate emissions and most other aspects of the hydraulic fracturing process. These are just a few of the concerns that arise from the recently released regulatory proposals.
The problems associated with the hydraulic fracturing at every stage of the process make it clear that a fracking industry that has proven so irresponsible has no business operating in Maryland. There is only one course of action citizens can take and that is to support a total ban on fracking in the state.