When it comes to fracking, Maryland is unique. Along with New York and a few countries, no fracking wells have been drilled in western Maryland. Though our state’s natural gas lies west below Garrett and Alleghany counties, deciding to frack or not will most likely be decided in our General Assembly. All Marylanders will play a role in choosing whether to frack or not.
There’s time to get up-to-speed on fracking’s realities since Maryland’ General Assembly legislated a fracking moratorium until October 1, 2017. Fracking’s a fairly complicated topic. Here at Baltimore Fishbowl we plan to publish stories that break fracking down into bite-sized chunks, and lay out key issues that don’t often pop up in the media.
Since our sister states, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, are roughly one decade into fracking, we’re starting at the end. What’s happened over time to homeowners living near fracking wells? What’s happened when something went wrong? Who helped, and were any damages fixed? It’s estimated that 15 million Americans live near our country’s 100,000 fracking wells.
You’re on your own
The short answer: Unless the gas company who caused the issue supplied a fix, homeowners were on their own. “MeMa” pictured below, offers a classic example of how fracking complaints get fixed. Most don’t. Thank heavens her guardian angel was found in the non-profit Friends of the Harmed.
It’s important to note that there is no governmental body or restitution process in place to help homeowners who have water, air, health or property damage. Homeowners must use the court system, or work directly with the gas drillers. If gas companies provide any restitution, that incident generally goes unreported because homeowners sign contracts with a gag clause meaning they are not allowed to share details with the public.
No federal laws govern fracking; the industry enjoys exemptions from the big seven environmental laws. States regulate fracking, and often fracking laws and regulations are weak. With little legal cover, utilizing the judicial system to sue for fracking damage claims is difficult, near impossible. Especially when the burden of proof resides with homeowners to prove exactly which aspect of fracking caused the harm. The role of each state department’s of the environment is spotty and can be contentious. Public Herald’s on-going ‘Invisible Hand‘ series investigates claims homeowners often cite that department’s of the environment do not provide the support homeowners need to fix fracking’s damage.
It can be so bad that good Samaritans have stepped in to help fracking’s neighbors. Friends of the Harmed in Pennsylvania is one such group. The group’s current target area has over 2,600 active fracking wells in five counties.
Why did Dana Dolney, one of the Friends of the Harmed co-founders, step in to help?
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “I got a second chance in life when I beat cancer, and it changed me. When I saw that no one who was paid, whose job it was to care, did a damn thing to help people harmed by fracking, we stepped in.”
Friends of the Harmed is a small group of volunteers, or consultants really, who swoop in SWAT style and assess a homeowner’s fracking complaint. The group develops a customized plan outlining the next steps the homeowners should take. Along with the group’s co-founders Briget Shields and Dana Dolney, three other volunteer members – Jason Bell, Anna Hansen and Kyle Pattison – are in the field helping fracking’s neighbors. The group is a project of the Pittsburgh-based non-profit Thomas Merton Center, which provides Friends of the Harmed ad hoc support and non-profit status.
Hot off the Press: Shalefield Stories
The group just released their second edition of Shalefield Stories. The 55 page just-how-bad-is-fracking brochure details personal stories with alarming photos. Shalefield Stories also offers readers some nuts and bolts fracking facts. The takeaway is that help for many southwestern Pennsylvanians has been non-existent. It’s worthwhile to buy this book online ($10) and learn what many of fracking neighbors around the country have experienced. All of the book’s proceeds directly help citizens in the fracking fields who have been harmed by fracking.
Through donations and Shalefield Stories’ book sales, Friends of the Harmed has donated $17,000 to buy: indoor air filters for toxic air pollution, water buffalo replacement systems to provide drinking water, bottled water, and well and indoor air quality testing to assess which chemicals are present. The group even helped pay for replacing indoor plumbing when a home’s pipes were damaged by contaminated well water. The types of direct aid donated reveals the issues people living near fracking are facing.
MeMa (pictured below) is a recipient of a water buffalo (potable water tank) because she claimed that her water well was contaminated. Me Ma had no pre-drilling water tests to prove this claim. After six years of working for a fix, Friends of the Harmed stepped in and purchased a water buffalo (picture below). Friends of the Harmed also purchased an air filter ($400) for her home to filter the chemicals being constantly vented from fracking operations near her home.
What’s Next for Maryland?
Governor Hogan is pro-fracking. It’s important to learn what fracking entails as Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) is reviewing the many public and technical comments submitted regarding the proposed fracking regulations. MDE’s Jay Apperson said, “That review is expected to include consultation with experts on the subject, and we are keeping our eyes open to developments and experiences regionally and nationally. We can’t prejudge the outcome of this review.”
Western Maryland residents will need all Marylanders to be knowledgable about what fracking means for people and communities, and not just for jobs, profits, tax revenues, and low gas prices.