Greenlaurel: Maryland’s Climate and Energy Conundrum at Cove Point

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Dominion’s Cove Point natural gas liquefaction plant is expected to start shipping Appalachian fracked gas by year’s end.

In the same week that Maryland’s fracking ban became law, Lusby, Maryland citizens were protesting Dominion Energy’s request to significantly increase the toxic chemical emissions expected from its new fracked gas export plant. A closer look at each issue highlights the challenges facing our climate as we weigh an age-old battle: profit versus the planet.

Let’s Make a Deal: Sell U.S. Fracked Gas Overseas

Fracking uses millions of gallons of drinking water laced with some toxic chemicals and sand to drill down miles underground into shale rock and access hard-to-find little gas bubbles. Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia jumped on the fracking train. A shot-in-the-arm, fracking was a boon to the U.S. energy industry not only because drillers found natural gas, but because drillers also found oil in North Dakota — one million barrels a day, actually.

What drillers and communities also found were serious problems. Fracking’s air pollution is rampant. Fracking communities report high levels of drinking water contamination as well as negative human and animal health issues stemming from toxic chemicals that are off-gassed or seep underground. Lastly, quiet rural communities have been transformed into industrialized landscapes.

With over 140,000 natural gas wells fracked, the U.S. now has an oversupply of natural gas. Consumers, power plants, and chemical, fertilizer and plastic manufacturers have reaped the benefits of rock-bottom natural gas rates.

In 2011, then-Governor O’Malley executed a moratorium on fracking in Western Maryland; a sliver of the gas-rich Appalachia shale play runs under Allegany and Garrett counties. A six-year battle ensued between pro-fracking and anti-fracking movements that ended in 2017. Maryland’s General Assembly, with Governor Hogan’s support, voted to ban fracking permanently. Maryland and New York are the only states with known natural gas reserves that have banned fracking.

Ironically, as Maryland stepped into its role as a climate leader — the 2007 Healthy Air Act, 2008 EmPOWER Maryland, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — in 2011 the federal government approved Dominion Energy’s Cove Point, Maryland’s natural gas export facility.

The Cove Point facility is the only viable gas nozzle on the East Coast, allowing U.S. oil companies to fill up the gas tanks of India and Japan with cheap Appalachia-fracked liquified natural gas. Natural gas sells for as much as three times higher than in the U.S.

Once a dormant gas import facility, Dominion has invested $4 billion to convert this plant to an export facility which is expected to go live by year’s end. At the site, Dominion constructed a new power plant that will be used exclusively to power the gas liquefaction process.

Six-acre fracking well pads host up to 10 wells and thousands of trucks are needed to bring in millions of gallons of water.

“We Are Cove Point”

Not only is the environmental community against Cove Point, but many Lusby, Md., citizens vehemently oppose Dominion’s export plant. The massive export facility is located in a residential community. The town’s residents have found themselves in the same situation as many living within fracking fields: in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Within two miles of Dominion’s Cove Point gas refinery plant there are 2,365 homes, 19 day care centers, three churches, two schools, two shopping centers, two senior centers and about 7,000 residents.

Banded together as a grassroots opposition group called “We Are Cove Point,” citizens have been rattling the cages of Hogan and the Maryland Department of the Environment to slow down or stop the gas export terminal.

We Are Cove Point has asked Hogan for some time to order an environmental safety study known as a Quantitative Risk Assessment. A less stringent safety study was used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve Dominion Cove Point. “We Are Cove Point” contends that Governor Hogan “supports the [Dominion] project and will not order a safety study.”

But it was at a recent Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing on Oct. 2 at Patuxent High School where Lusby citizens’ anger was evident.

Calvert County resident Bill Peil presented his opposition to Dominion’s plans at October 2 PSC hearing. Photo: Jeff Dixon

Dominion asked the PSC to revise the original permit by removing the volatile organic compound (VOC) restrictions. The permit was approved for 2.5 tons of VOCs. Dominion is now asking permission to emit 20 tons of VOC fugitive emissions, an eightfold jump. Dominion is also asking for more generators.

“Governor Hogan announced last week that he was concerned about air pollution coming into our state, but he doesn’t seem to care about pollution created in Lusby from a Virginia company, Dominion,” said Lusby resident Mark Giuffrida. “No one seems to care that this pollution will harm us, the bay, or the wildlife.”

Giuffruda’s comment illustrates the climate disconnect: On Sept. 27, 2017 Maryland sued the Environmental Protection Agency to stop interstate air pollution. Now Maryland may approve Dominion Cove Point to legally emit even more harmful chemicals into nearby neighborhoods.

Maryland citizens can still submit a public comment to the PSC until Oct. 16 about Dominion’s request to increase their air emissions and add more power generators.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks to the Fishbowl is covering this. Please note that Dominion also is seeking permission to emit 550.5 tons per year of greenhouse gases instead of the approved 54 tons per year. (That’s probably a low-ball estimate, too, because Dominion is most likely looking at effect of methane over 100 years instead of the more relevant 20 years. Methane is about 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 over 100 years — but 86 times more powerful over 20 years. ) Dominion is probably asking for even more than this. It counts on people being unable to wade through all the paperwork.

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