Hogan Signs Fracking Ban, Silences Western Maryland Voices

As expected, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill Tuesday that officially bans fracking in Maryland. This development became an inevitable after Hogan’s March 17 announcement that he would support such a measure — a complete reversal of the pro-fracking stance he communicated on the campaign trail when he said Maryland is “sitting on a gold mine of clean natural gas energy in western Maryland.”

Hogan’s reversal has been characterized by some media reports as purely “a change of heart on the most meaningful of issues” that led him to bravely break ranks with his party’s agenda in “a rare sign of bipartisanship on the contentious topic.” But Hogan’s decision actually appears driven by a desire to score political points with the considerable environmental contingent in the state. In doing so, Hogan has silenced the voices of the people that should matter the most — residents of Garrett and Allegheny counties, where fracking would have occurred in Maryland, and where the strongest support for the practice exists.

Hogan’s fracking flip-flop was driven by a proposed non-binding county-by-county moratorium that was part of a bill sponsored by Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City. If passed, the bill would have extended the current fracking moratorium by two years, but also permitted a county-by-county referendum on whether to allow the practice in the future, rather than a statewide ban. As U.S. News reported,

“One of the moratorium bill’s biggest proponents, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, suggests those counties be given a choice.

“I supported legislation that banned fracking, but let the people of Garrett and Allegany County have their voice,” said Miller, a Democrat representing Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s Counties in Central Maryland, in a statement Friday. “The advocates for fracking have claimed that the people of Western Maryland are for fracking, and I believed it was important to let those residents’ opinions be heard.” (emphasis added)

That said, Hogan simply didn’t want to give residents of Garrett and Allegany counties that option. He knew the latest Goucher poll found that 40 percent of Marylanders oppose a ban on fracking, while 36 percent support one, meaning that support for a fracking ban in Maryland is anything but universal. And if the 2016 general election results are any indicator, this is especially true in Garrett and Allegheny counties, where candidates favorable to allowing fracking overwhelmingly beat out anti-fracking candidates.

And there are several reasons why.

Earlier this month, the current president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau (GCFB), Aaron Lantz, wrote a letter to the editor explaining why farmers and the GCFB support development,

“Fifteen years ago, the issue was windmills; today, it is fracking.

“The Garrett County Farm Bureau has been advocating for our farmers’ ability to safely and responsibly drill for gas on their own land for over 10 years and now we are at a turning point. “It is critical now that we do not completely ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland and cut off a tremendous amount of opportunities for residents of Garrett County.

“People often want to know why farmers like hydraulic fracturing. From our perspective it isn’t about hydraulic fracturing at all. It is about accessing and producing natural gas from resources on our own land.

“For everyone living in urban and suburban areas, fracking is making your air cleaner to breathe, slashing the costs of natural gas and products made from natural gas, improving the national economy and allowing us to export gas to foreign countries.

“For my farmers, it does all of that as well as enable them to recover the value of the gas they own.” (emphasis added)

Lantz went on to explain about the long history of oil and gas development in Western Maryland, something the legislature seems to have forgotten about,

“We have been producing and storing gas here since 1955, and the gas industry is a valuable part of our economy. We would like that to continue and grow with the addition of jobs, royalties and taxes from shale production in Maryland.”

Finally, Lantz discussed the regulations that Governor Hogan agreed in his announcement would make it “possible that it [fracking] could be done in a clean, environmentally safe way”—regulations that merely need to be promulgated by the administration. Lantz explained,

“The goal of the Farm Bureau has been to establish regulations that protect our farms as well as the surrounding community. We think the proposed regulations do that. There is nothing like them anywhere else in America. If someone shows you a drilling practice in another state you don’t like, there is a strong possibility it is prohibited here in Maryland.”

Lantz added that,

“If we bury these regulations now with a ban, we will be wasting millions of dollars that have been spent developing the regulatory process and denying landowners the right to develop their gas resources. But the real cost will be to the environment, because we did not have the courage to pursue his [former Gov. O’Malley] vision to the end and influence the people who produce gas for Maryland in other states to do it to in a way that Maryland finds acceptable.”

Those regulations were slated to take effect on Oct. 1. Hogan said on March 17 that “I believe with the regulations that we proposed it is possible that (fracking) could be done in a clean, environmentally safe way.” So why didn’t he simply let those regulations take effect?

It basically boils down to this: Instead of enacting those regulations and listening to residents of Garrett and Allegheny Counties that have been expressing support of fracking for years, Maryland lawmakers have again ignored western Marylanders. Shane Grady of the Energy and Property Rights Coalition—a group that represents nearly 100 farmers and landowners in Western Maryland — recently pleaded with the legislature not to “let your personal views override science and take away the rights and property of Maryland citizens by passing a ban bill!”

Unfortunately for Western Maryland, unlike neighboring West Virginia where Governor Justice and members of the legislature publicly recognized the importance of shale development last month, the Maryland legislature and Governor Hogan chose anti-fracking rhetoric and “alternative facts” over science, and politics over facts, cutting off the opportunity for Western Marylanders to see thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in output and wages.

It’s been more than two years since Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York, and he has yet to provide a sustainable solution for the loss of jobs, taxes, and other revenue the development of the Marcellus Shale could have brought to Upstate New York. As Governor Hogan follows in Governor Cuomo’s footsteps, one has to wonder if Western Maryland will find itself in the same waiting game.

 

 

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