Fracking’s Air Pollution is Migrating into Baltimore

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Neighboring state’s hydraulic fracturing air pollution is floating into Baltimore’s air.

The gift that Baltimore doesn’t need: Marcellus Shale’s fracking air pollution. We don’t even frack in Maryland, but University of Maryland scientists recently discovered that doesn’t matter. Published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, their research reveals that toxic air pollution from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia’s 10,000+ fracking wells floats right over to, you guessed it, Baltimore. This isn’t good, people.

The study found that levels of ethane, just one of the gases that leak from fracking wells, pipes, tanks and trucks, in Baltimore rose 30 percent in three short years. The same westerly winds that carry the Ohio Valley’s coal-fired power plant air pollution, also bring our sister state’s fracking yuck to Baltimore. Ph.D. student Tim Vinciguerra, the paper’s lead author hit the nail on the head:  “The question you start to ask yourself is, if ethane levels are going up this much, and it’s only a small percentage of all natural gas, how much methane and other, more reactive emissions are escaping from these wells?” 

No one really knows the degree to which climate-changing and unhealthy gases are escaping the fracking system. Check out our recent story about fracking’s disgusting and legal air pollution.

More air pollution is the last thing our town needs. Baltimore’s air quality is the worst on the East Coast (see below.) Our elected officials have dragged their heels on forcing coal-fired power plants to modernize their pollution controls and reduce our area’s unhealthy smog. We’ve been playing catch up for years.

Ironically, this UMD fracking research published in the same quarter that Governor Hogan rescinded our state’s approved power plant smog rules. Maryland was on its way to making a bigger dent in air pollution by requiring power plants to run existing pollution controls on summer days (some have none, by the way.) More importantly, the updated smog regulation also forced power plants to upgrade their pollution technology to meet federal air quality standards. And, by 2020.

But, on Governor Hogan’s first day in office, he cancelled these smog rules and then later issued “emergency rules.” Hogan kept the part forcing electricity plants to run whatever pollution controls they do have in the summer (thank you,) but it’s unclear whether or not power plants will upgrade their smog pollution controls in the future. No plan has been set forth.

Come on people-we’re just trying to breathe here!

According to the EPA, not only does the Baltimore Washington area not meet federal standards, Baltimore County and City are the worst on the East Coast.
According to the EPA, not only does the Baltimore/Washington area not meet 2008 federal ozone/smog standards, but Baltimore County and City are the among the worst on the East Coast.
The Clean Air Act has significantly reduced air pollution in the nation. But, Baltimore is still a hot spot. Source: EPA
The Clean Air Act has significantly reduced air pollution in the nation. But, Baltimore is still a hot spot. Source: EPA

Laurel Peltier
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  1. And I thought I escaped the devastation caused by fracking when I moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh. Thanks for the great article, Laurel!

  2. Thank you, Laurel ,for pointing out that holding fracking at bay here in Maryland may not be enough to have fracking not affect our air. I also worry about fracking and the water quality here as the Susquehanna River runs right through Pennsylvania’s fracking area including a town called Frackville, and empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

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