Dominion’s Cove Point: Poised to Open the Door to Fracking in Maryland

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Maryland walks the fracking plank.
Soon, a shipping tanker will dock at Dominion’s Cove Point natural gas facility pier in Lusby, MD and bring U.S. fracked gas to Asia. So much for energy independence.

As Marylanders have been pushing for wind energy, installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and shelling out storm water and ‘flush’ fees to clean the Chesapeake Bay, our federal government approved a massive energy project here in Maryland that couldn’t be farther from “eco-friendly.”

Approval to convert Cove Point, a long idle natural gas import facility, to an export facility came just as the moratorium on fracking in Maryland nears.  A coincidence? No one is admitting to a fully fleshed-out fracking plan, but in this pro-fracking administration, it is just a matter of time before one starts, environmentalists believe. When it does, don’t expect the moms in Lusby, Maryland, to take it lying down.  Some are already piping mad!

Cove Point’s hidden truths, below, reveal hypocrisy in action. It’s apparent that Cove Point’s approval was decided long ago behind closed doors between top-level government officials and key fossil fuel partners. Marylanders didn’t get a vote in this matter. The 150,000 letters of protest got recycled. The 1,000 protest marchers in Baltimore got sore throats while our elected officials stepped aside and laid out the welcome mat.

On September 29, 2014 the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based energy company, the thumbs up to retrofit its idle Cove Point, Maryland liquid natural gas import facility to an export facility.  The price tag for Dominion: $4 billion.  No company would put that kind of money into a project unless it expects spectacular returns, and the math looks like they’ll get them.

The Maryland that prides itself on forward-thinking environmental policies just happens to be home to an old natural gas import plant that sits pretty close to the Appalachian Marcellus Shale. The Marcellus is fracking’s gold mine, producing 30 percent of the U.S. fracking gas boom.    

Exporting U.S. gas is the final step in the fracking-based energy strategy that began in 2005 with the Bush administration. In nine years, nearly 100,000 fracking wells have been drilled here in the U.S.  With the supply of natural gas abundant, policy makers and oil companies have decided it’s time to start sending it overseas and bringing home big profits: Natural gas prices are four times higher abroad than domestically.

In Maryland, pro-fracking energy policy allowed Cove Point to be quickly approved. The 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 liquified natural gas.

Dominion’s Cove Point export plant may very well affect you and your family if you pay a natural gas heating bill, care at all about climate change, live near a future pipeline path or find that your home sits atop our state’s many shale gas basins.

10 Hidden Truths About Dominion’s Cove Point

  1. Natural gas prices actually rise for homes and business.  If you heat your home with natural gas, you may have noticed your winter utility bill has been low. Fracking’s extra gas supply has forced down natural gas rates. But low prices are expected to rise as U.S. supply tightens due to rising exports. And industrial gas rates are expected to rise, too. Plastics and chemical companies are peeved about exports because rising gas prices slam their businesses.
  2. King Coal returns.  A startling factor revealed in one of the few governmental reports analyzing the public benefit of exporting gas is that power plants will switch back to coal because natural gas gets pricier. 
  3. Fuhgeddaboud global warming. New scientific research reveals that methane leaks associated with fracking for natural gas are three times worse than suspected. This is depressing because fracked gas emissions are worse than coal’s. It does not matter that gas burns cleaner in heaters and power plants, because that leaked methane is global warming’s loaded gun; it’s 86 times more potent than CO₂.  The we-want-Cove-Point-team didn’t even attempt to calculate those pesky potential greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). And someone at FERC actually typed on page 78 of their export application this doozy: “Upstream production [that’s code for fracking] is therefore outside the scope of our environmental analysis. The same principle holds true for potential downstream GHG emissions.”
  4. How cool, a new power plant on the Bay! To convert fracked gas to liquid natural gas, Dominion got the O.K. to build a new on-site 130-megawatt electricity generation station. Marylanders fought tooth and nail for common sense offshore wind energy, yet Dominion will build the state’s fourth largest emissions polluter long before an offshore turbine starts spinning.  Adding to the absurdity, Maryland’s Public Service Commission stated Dominion’s new power plant provides Maryland, “no economic benefit.”
  5. O’Malley marches to Dominion’s beat. Watching Maryland’s “green” governor “sleepwalk through fracking,” as ClimateHoward’s Elisabeth Hoffman wrote,  showcases the real-world political conundrum in tackling our environmental issues. O’Malley has scored many green points during his tenure: off shore wind, the Empower Maryland program and joining the Regional Greenhouse Cap & Trade Initiative. O’Malley even held off fracking and vehemently opposed turning the Sparrows Point into a liquid natural gas export plant. But, now that O’Malley has the Oval Office in sight, he folded when taking his own “Keystone pipeline” test. Not only did O’Malley participate in a recent America’s Natural Gas Alliance fundraiser, but he also approved Cove Point knowing that 65 percent of U.S. exported gas will be from additional fracking. Our newly elected governor Larry Hogan is pro-fracking and pro-gas, too. It seems no politician can say ‘no’ to oil and gas. It’s political suicide. 
  6. No thanks, we don’t need environmental studies. U.S. federal environmental regulations play a big role in ensuring cleaner water and air. The Safe Water Drinking Act and Clean Air Act are well known, but a key and lesser known regulation is the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA, as it’s known, requires the government to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study to evaluate the environmental effects of projects exactly like Cove Point.  Dominion didn’t complete an Environment Impact Study. Who wants facts floating around for greenies to latch onto when the plant will be built anyway.
  7. Have you seen 39,732 people around here? If you want to see some smokin’ mad moms, visit Lusby, Maryland, home of the Cove Point facility. It’s true that Calvert County officials and some citizens want the $40 million in yearly revenues. And, local construction workers are psyched for short-term jobs. But not all of Cove Point’s residents are happy, and Tracey Eno said it best: “Cove Point is closer to people’s homes than any other proposed export site [in the world]. Dominion’s application didn’t even list our town—the very town where their plant is located. They ‘forgot’ 39,732 people who live in the surrounding area. Almost 90 percent of us. Cove Point is NOT a remote site! Inside the 2-mile evacuation radius alone there are more than 8,000 people.”
  8. Maryland, meet fracking. Fracking, meet Maryland. As Maryland’s de facto fracking moratorium expires this year, the state’s environmental departments have been furiously drafting updated fracking regulations. ClimateHoward’s Elisabeth Hoffman has doggedly reported this story as well as Cove Point’s approval.  Did you know that your home may actually be sitting atop a shale basin? As this U.S. geological Survey map illustrates, a good portion of Maryland sits atop natural gas shale basins.  If fracking is approved in Maryland, could there be future fracking wells in your neighborhood?
  9. Wait 10 years” is doctor’s fracking prescription. Marylander’s own Marcellus Safe Drilling Commission’s health study gave red or yellow danger scores to 7 of 8 fracking risk factors–things like air pollution and water contamination. A group of esteemed doctors stated, “…we acknowledge that it may take 10 years or more to fully understand the health ramifications of hydro fracturing, and importantly, how to mitigate the health risks associated.” This group also concluded that Maryland is a good control group to compare the negative health issues cropping up in Pennsylvania and W. Virginia. Good lord, this is a living experiment.
  10. Shiny, happy pipelines. A topic barely touched in Cove Point’s approval is where are the necessary pipelines and compressor stations going to be laid to get Appalachian gas to Cove Point? Myersville, Maryland already knows, as the town is the lucky winner of a huge compressor station being built less than 1 mile from the town’s elementary school.  Citizens couldn’t stop the project. See and hear what a real compressor station looks like as compared to industry ads. Taking lands through eminent domain has allowed fracking’s pipelines to be laid through some parks, farms and private property.

“Green” Maryland took three big steps back with Cove Point’s approval and only the future will tell us if we will take any steps forward. Environmental groups continue to protest and march against fracking in Maryland and also against Dominion’s Cove Point.  Who knows if these actions or any possible future legal challenges may alter Cove Point’s course, especially now that “green” Maryland voted in a pro-fracking governor.  As we all swim in our little part of the world’s bigger fishbowl, Dominion’s Cove Point and our country’s fracking-based energy policy will change the waters forever. 

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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9 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your thorough investigation of this debacle. “Energy independence” becomes an empty refrain when the fracked gas starts flowing out of the country. There are no easy answers, but transparency and concern for future generations, instead of short-term profit for a few, are no-brainers.

  2. Excellent article – thank you! Marylanders, you really need to step up to the plate on this, it’s not a remote issue! We’re fighting Dominion in southern Calvert County, the people of Myersville are fighting Dominion in Garrett County. Soon the rest of you will find yourselves in our shoes – compressor stations in your town, pipelines through your neighborhoods, and quite possibly fracking pads in your back yards. Please wake up and start to pay attention.

  3. Fracking is an outrageous assault on human beings and the planet. But I don’t have a lot of hope. Profit usually wins in this country, health and safety be damned.

    • You are so correct. I live in western md where we fracking is front and center. Even a 3 year moritorium. …. it’s still eminent.

  4. God forbid there be some actual industry in Maryland. It’s much better for the economy to be run by the military industrial complex and other DC bloat as it currently is.

  5. @GH you would compromise the safety of our water for generations for some jobs in the short term? This is a no-brainer. jobs are not more important than health, any way you look at it. It’s LIFE, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, not Jobs, Liberty, …

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