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Maryland Governor O'Malley Is Ready to Allow Fracking in His State
Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has frequently been mentioned as a top-of-the-list contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, should Hillary Clinton's bid fail to materialize. But he just made himself more controversial within the party—and raised the ire of environmentalists—with his announcement that he is ready to allow fracking in the state, where it has so far been banned.
Natural gas companies have been casting a longing eye at Maryland since the fracking boom started. The state's western panhandle sits on the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, which has proved such a money-maker in Pennsylvania just to its north.
O'Malley said that energy companies that want to frack in the state will have to abide by restrictive environmental and public health regulations, including limits on drilling locations and oversight of risks to air pollution and water contamination. He said he will unveil the final regulations in mid-December before leaving office to be succeeded by Republican Larry Hogan in January. Hogan has made it clear he's chomping at the bit to open the state to fracking, calling it an "economic gold mine," and saying during the campaign ''States throughout the country have been developing their natural gas resources safely and efficiently for decades. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against any new energy production.''
At least one environmental group is looking at O'Malley's announcement from a somewhat positive point of view. "The fact that we have a governor-elect who wants to move forward on fracking means we want to get some protections in place as soon as possible,” Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, told the Washington Post. She said she expects Hogan to loosen some of the restrictions but with a Democratic-controlled legislature with mixed feelings about fracking, it's hard to predict how that would go.
But Food & Water Watch's Wenonah Hauter didn't find anything to celebrate.
“Governor Martin O’Malley’s announcement that his administration will release regulations on fracking next month ignores the tens of thousands of Marylanders calling on him to keep fracking out of the state," she said. “He leaves control of fracking’s regulation in the hands of pro-fracking Governor-elect Larry Hogan, someone who sees fracking as a 'goldmine' for the state’s coffers. The fact that O’Malley is praising Maryland’s fracking rules as the strictest in the country means nothing considering Hogan will likely change the rules or dismantle them completely. Given Governor O’Malley’s failure to adequately protect Marylanders from the harms of fracking, it is now incumbent upon the incoming Maryland legislature to keep fracking out of the state.”
A state-produced report issued yesterday, called the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Study, offered a preview of the regulations, addressing topics like chemicals used, noise levels, setbacks, methane migration, drilling through aquifers, fresh water use, impact on natural habitats and greenhouse gas emissions, while bluntly assessing the job creation and economic impact. It estimated that the two affected counties—Allegany and Garrett—together might gain close to 3,500 jobs in the peak year, along with $5.4 million in tax revenues and $15.8 million in severance taxes.
But it also said candidly, "The amount of natural gas in Western Maryland is small compared to Pennsylvania’s and West Virginia’s holdings, and the economic benefits, especially the jobs, are likely to last only a few years. It is not clear
whether the royalty payments would go to Marylanders, because in many cases the mineral rights were severed from the surface rights decades ago. Resource extraction typically operates on a 'boom and bust' cycle, and jurisdictions that depend heavily on such industries often fail to diversify their economies, making them especially vulnerable when that industry leaves."
The study anticipated a boom in economic activity from 2017 until the middle of the ’20s when it begins to fall off steeply, decreasing to virtually nothing by 2036.
It also mentioned that Garrett County, where a majority of the activity would take place, is a hub for outdoor recreation and tourism and "could suffer during the active phases of gas development, even if no accidents or incidents occur." In addition, it said, "A large portion of Garrett County’s revenue comes from real estate taxes on the land around Deep Creek Lake, and studies have shown that property values can decline sharply if drilling occurs nearby."
And while it says, "There is no doubt that unconventional gas development in Western Maryland has the potential to harm public health, the environment and natural resources," it concludes, "Best practices and rigorous monitoring, inspection and enforcement can manage and reduce the risks."
While cautiously "commending" O'Malley and his staff for the work they did on drafting the regulations and finding a few positive things such as the first-ever rule leading to zero methane leakage, Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s director Mike Tidwell said, "CCAN believes that the safest strategy for drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale is to not drill for that gas at all. With sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change now directly harming Maryland and much of the world, climate scientists say 80 percent of the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we are to have any hope of stabilizing the world’s atmosphere."
The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is concerned about the impacts fracking can have on human health. “There is now ample evidence that fracking and other unconventional oil and gas drilling have significant negative impacts on human health,” said Katie Huffling, director of programs for Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “As a nurse-midwife, I am deeply concerned about the elevated risks of birth defects and low birth weight babies seen in families near fracking sites in other states. We need to protect Maryland families and continue a moratorium on fracking in Maryland until we know it can be done safely.”
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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