As the debate about fracking heats up in Annapolis, faith leaders representing thousands of worship houses across the state have thrown their support behind a proposal to permanently ban the drilling practice.
The current two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is set to expire in October. Starting on the first of that month, Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration hopes to allow companies to draw on some of western Maryland’s natural gas reserves for a new source of energy and revenue.
Last week, state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, of Baltimore County’s 11th district, proposed SB 740, which would permanently ban the practice once the current moratorium expires. Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, of Montgomery County’s 15th district, is set to introduce an identical bill in the House of Delegates tomorrow, according to advocacy group Maryland Food and Water Watch.
This morning, the Ecumenical Leaders’ Group of Maryland disseminated a letter indicating its zealous support for the proposed ban. The group represents thousands of churches across Maryland. Its members include representatives of the United Church of Christ, the Baltimore Washington United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
“Like all people everywhere, we live from and rely on the health and well-being of God’s creation – air, water, and land; wildlife and domestic animals; local ecosystems; and the great interconnected ecosystem that the whole earth shares,” read the letter from the religious coalition. “As faith leaders, we’ve come to believe that there are significant risks, known and unknown, posed by fracking that we implore our elected officials to take to heart.”
Among the risks the leaders cited are environmental effects that can harm public health, such as groundwater contamination and methane pollution, as well as threats to “climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.” Young people and the poor would be most vulnerable to these effects, the group wrote.
At the end of their letter, the church leaders asked lawmakers to vote in favor of the bills, saying the legislature is “morally bound to pass immediately a statewide ban” on fracking.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City has proposed a separate piece of legislation that might appease some fracking proponents who are against a permanent ban. Her bill, SB 862, would ban the practice until Oct. 1, 2019, but allow jurisdictions to permit it on a case-by-case basis if a majority of residents vote in favor of allowing it in a referendum. Her bill has 23 co-sponsors, including Senate President Mike Miller.
Conway chairs the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Her office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
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