As Maryland grapples with approving natural gas drilling in Western Maryland, new research and news adds to the controversy. Most notable is that Baltimore’s back-up water supply during droughts is the Susquehanna River, recently named by American Rivers the #1 endangered river due to the fracking boom in the river’s watershed.
Fracking is natural gas drilling where oil and gas firms drill miles down into the huge shale rock deposit (called the Marcellus) running from New York to Virginia. Who knew Deep Creek Lake sits atop the Saudi Arabia of natural gas? To release the natural gas, drillers must fracture, ‘fracking’ for short, the rock by pumping millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals. For a fracking overview, click here. Environmentalists and the oil industry are deeply divided over fracking’s economic benefits weighed against environmental costs.
RECENT MARYLAND FRACKING NEWS:
- METHANE SEEPING INTO WATER WELLS: Industry has touted that no research supports the notion that water wells near fracking sites contained methane (natural gas). People were complaining they could light their water on fire best documented in the documentary Gasland. Last week, four Duke scientists proved that wells within 1 kilometer of a fracking well had methane levels so high that hazardous mitigation was needed.
- SUSQUEHANNA #1 ENDANGERED RIVER DUE TO FRACKING CONCERNS: The conservation group American Rivers cited the Susquehanna River, which runs through the Marcellus, as the #1 endangered U.S. river due fracking spills, leakages from the discharge pits and cracked casings running through water tables.
- PA BLOWOUT- TOXIC SPILL INTO SUSQUEHANNA TRIBUTARY: April 19, 2011 a Chesapeake Energy well site had a blowout and thousands of gallons of fracking solution spilled for nearly a day into Towanda Creek, a Susquehanna tributary. The wells owner has suspended fall racking in Pennsylvania and West Virginia until the blow out is identified.
The tensions between environmentalists and the natural gas industry over fracking’s benefits were on display during the April 14, 2011 Senate U.S. Environment discussed its version of federal fracking regulation. On one side of the aisle, Senator Cornyn (R) of Texas stated, “Regulating fracking would be death by 1,000 cuts.” and on the other side Senator Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland stated “Let’s get fracking right because waterways don’t recognize state boundaries.”
Baltimore readers may be aware that natural gas drillers are knocking on Maryland’s doors to drill in Western Maryland; over 124,000 acres of farmlands have been leased. Natural gas drilling brings jobs, cash and tax revenues and those benefits are sorely needed in Maryland’s western counties. Yet, fracking is unregulated at the federal level and is contingent on state and industry oversight. And, with Baltimore’s back-up water source tagged as an endangered river due to fracking, Baltimore readers may need to ask the question, “what the frack is fracking?” More to follow.