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)
In 2009, my wife and I retired to western Maryland. Though we knew little about natural gas drilling, or fracking, we understood that an oil and gas company might want to lease our property to extract gas. After learning about this process (water contamination, unhealthy air pollution and landscape destruction), we are no longer considering leasing our land, and in fact we are vigorously opposed.
My last job was as an engineer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Our main task was to review billion-dollar-plus programs with program team management in an attempt to learn why so many DHS programs (acquisitions) were failing. The last question asked during the review process was: What do you want to buy? Oddly, program managers were asking for hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, many could not answer that simple question. They wanted the money, but had no clear ideas about how the money was to be spent. You don't go to the bank to borrow money without knowing how you're going to spend the money. Nor can you ask the acquisition authority for money without knowing the same thing. They hadn't done their homework, and that was irresponsible. That type of program management spells failure.
On Dec. 6, I attended Garrett County's pre-legislative meeting with our state legislators, Sen. George Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel. This pre-General Assembly meeting affords voters an opportunity to speak directly with our elected representatives about issues that matter to voters.
Always a hot topic in western Maryland, fracking came up during the meeting. Both Messrs. Edwards and Beitzel are proponents of the gas drilling, even though only 28 percent of Garrett County opposes a fracking ban. Both claim that fracking will bring significant economic benefits and jobs to Western Maryland.
Given my work at the Department of Homeland Security, I asked my legislators some simple questions: What is fracking's economic impact expected to be for the average household? Stunningly, neither had an answer to that question. Nothing. Delegate Beitzel, who is a large landowner and has leased his land for drilling, did tell me how to calculate natural gas royalties for land lessors. Potential land lessors are a very small percentage of Western Maryland citizens.
Both legislators have also advised us about fracking's huge job prospects. I asked about the number and types of jobs, and whether these jobs will be filled locally. Neither one could provide any of the basics about jobs.
Really? If you're asking the people that you represent, people whose best interests you are supposed to support, why haven't you both done your homework and understood the basics? Have we not learned anything from Pennsylvania's decade of drilling 10,000 fracking wells? Failure was extremely high at DHS because people weren't doing their homework.
I then asked both legislators if Maryland would require fracking operators to staff with union workers. I believe unions protect the safety of employees; according to AFL-CIO, fracking workers are seven times more likely to die on the job than other workers. Messrs. Beitzel and Edwards publicly stated that neither would support requirements for operators to hire union workers.
I'm angry. I think Western Maryland's state legislators are misusing the trust we've placed in them to gain support for fracking. Citizens here elected these men to do what's in our best interest. I think they have exploited and violated that trust.
The bottom line for me is that Senator Edwards and Delegate Beitzel are asking the average household to assume fracking's economic, health and environmental risks, even though neither has a clue about how the average household will benefit. They only see economic benefit for land lessors.
This type of representation is highly irresponsible. Advocating an enterprise without proper study invites disaster. They don't understand that. We understand that. The citizens of Western Maryland far and away oppose fracking because we do understand the costs and benefits. I ask these men to do their homework, or perhaps find another job. In my view, they are acting irresponsibly.