Maryland’s legislature has officially voted to ban fracking within its borders. Yesterday, the Senate voted 35-10 in favor of banning hydraulic fracturing, a little over two weeks after the House of Delegates passed the same ban bill with a veto-proof margin. How Maryland banned fracking is pretty interesting, especially in light of the complete undoing of environmental laws by the Trump administration.
Though 137,000 fracking wells have been drilled in the U.S. since 2004, no fracking has taken place in western Maryland. After Gov. Martin O’Malley paused drilling before it could begin in 2011, he installed a commission to study the safety of the new drilling method that uses millions of gallons of drinking water, chemicals and sand to access little gas bubbles miles underground.
Upon his exit in 2014, O’Malley proposed fracking regulations. Maryland’s General Assembly then voted in a two-year moratorium on drilling in 2015. During this time, most of the 100,000 acres of drilling leases expired; only 4,000 acres are still leased today for gas storage only.
In other states, the gas industry went on a drilling terror, leaving natural gas inventories high and prices so low that many rigs are dormant today. In 2016, Hogan relaxed the fracking regulations and expressed support for fracking on the campaign trail.
So How Did Fracking Get Banned in 2017?
- Western Md. businesses and public pushback: Businesses and citizens in western Maryland’s Garrett County, where two-thirds of revenues come from tourism and property taxes, voiced their opposition to fracking. Based on actual property devaluation data for sites near fracking and potential negative impacts to tourism, word got out that most in Maryland’s potential “gaslands” weren’t on board.
- Serious health issues: During Maryland’s six-year pause, hundreds of health-related studies based on actual fracking data proved that on-the-ground stories were true: Fracking’s pollution was causing serious health issues ranging from asthma, cancer and premature births to cardiovascular, nervous system and gastronomical issues.
- Proven water contamination: Water contamination reports on the ground were common in fracking fields. In 2016, after 12 years of fracking, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection released a one-time data dump of 9,441 citizen damage complaints for the 10,027 fracking wells drilled since 2004. With 40 percent of the complaints being drinking water-related, Pennsylvania citizens have seen a 1:1 complaint ratio. Actual data proved widespread and systemic fracking damage.
- People power: The most powerful lever in Maryland’s unlikely ban is the collaboration and organization by Maryland’s environmental, legislative, citizen and health communities under one umbrella: Don’t Frack Maryland. Built over three years, the movement was a cohesive and strategic effort of messaging, marches, letter-writing, campaigning, communication and mobilization, all of which was tightly coordinated and focused on key decision-makers: Maryland’s delegates and senators. It can safely be assumed that a few senators and delegates may never want to hear the word “fracking” again. As momentum built and the votes were flipping to “yes” on a ban in the Senate (the perennial gravesite of previous fracking bills), even Gov. Hogan agreed with the sentiment that Maryland had more to lose from fracking than it would gain.
Renewable vs. the Drill-Baby-Drill GOP
Ironically, Maryland’s choice to pass on fracking and transition to clean energy through the expanded Renewable Portfolio Standard, Community Solar, and the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act runs counter to Trump and the GOP’s dismantling of federal environmental programs and laws. With Dominion’s natural gas export facility, located on Maryland’s Cove Point shores, to open at year-end 2017, the urge to frack will be greater.
It can be a frustrating and discouraging time to push for renewable energy. We really have a limited amount of time to address to climate change. But at least Maryland can be counted on as a climate leader and the state is walking the talk for lower cost, cleaner and healthier renewable energy. Time to keep marching.
This story will be updated.