Leaders in the Maryland Legislature rejected a bill last session that would have placed a ban on fracking in the state, seemingly supporting Gov. O’Malley (D-MD) in whatever plan he unveils for Maryland. The governor, in turn, has appropriated taxpayer money to conduct several studies to determine whether or not the long-term effects of fracking would be too detrimental to public health and the environment.
In fact, Gov. O’Malley has been telling anti-fracking advocates that the Old Line State will not turn into another version of Pennsylvania, where regulations are scant and taxes on the oil and gas industry are virtually non-existent. But more and more, we are seeing evidence that Gov. O’Malley wants to turn Maryland into a natural gas-friendly state like Pennsylvania. Almost as if to demonstrate that very point, I got some news that is as surprising as it is frustrating.
State officials recently revealed to Food & Water Watch that Gov. O’Malley has hired John H. Quigley, who served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during the state’s rapid expansion of fracking, to help draft key fracking regulations in Maryland. The news is further proof that Gov. O’Malley has already made his mind up to allow fracking and is moving forward with developing regulations to issue fracking permits in Maryland.
Two years ago, Gov. O’Malley created the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and charged its members with assessing whether or not to pursue fracking. To that end, the commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) were tasked with conducting three studies that would look at how fracking could affect public health, the state economy and the environment. But without completing any of these studies the commission suddenly went into overdrive this spring and began the process to draft rules.
In February, the MDE issued a report revealing that while fracking could have significant negative impacts in Maryland, and that the state is wholly unprepared to oversee the oil and gas industry, it should nevertheless move forward with a series of “best management practices” to help prepare for issuing drilling permits. So they did, and in May, they released the report for best management practices for gas drilling in Maryland.
Now, we catch wind of this report, The Case for Maryland’s Proposed Comprehensive Gas Development Plan Program, that the Maryland DNR commissioned John H. Quigley, former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to produce. Scheduled for unveiling next week, the report notes that Maryland has a chance to create “win—wins” for businesses and the environment alike by moving forward with the “responsible” drilling of natural gas.
Let’s take a closer look at Quigley:
Quigley worked at Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources between 2005 and 2011, and served as secretary for three of those years. Note that the number of new unconventional gas wells increased from eight in 2005 to 1,974 in 2011 with many documented environmental and health problems following the rapid expansion of fracking in Pennsylvania.
Now a consultant, Quigley has written this report for the DNR, shared anonymously with Food & Water Watch by administration officials, that shows Gov. O’Malley tapping into Quigley’s expertise to push controversial “comprehensive drilling plans,” a new type of regulation that aims to cluster fracking drill pads in small sacrifice zones within the state. Comprehensive drilling plans are meant to encourage multiple natural gas companies to voluntarily map out specific drilling zones in order to reduce the negative impacts once these companies are drilling.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Quigley, after all, has been a main consultant for PennFuture, an environmental group who was a strategic partner in creating the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. This center is a marriage of pro-business environmental organizations like PennFuture and the Environmental Defense Fund and major oil and gas companies such as Chevron and Shell to develop voluntary performance standards for fracking.
In other words, these groups are promoting voluntary rules agreed to by the industry. Former PennFuture CEO John Hanger also went on to become Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and failed to protect the state’s environment from the inevitable pollution from fracking.
In a ridiculous gesture of public relations prowess, Quigley says in his report that Maryland has a chance to create environmental and business “win—wins” by moving forward with the “responsible” drilling of natural gas. What Quigley views as the first “win” is really just “less loss” from an environmental perspective. This is coming from a guy who might not have been setting the bar very high for safety when he said, “incidents and accidents are inevitable; you’re never going to bat 1.000.”
Mr. Quigley is scheduled to present his report to the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission next Monday, July 22, in Allegany County. Asked for reactions to the report, Citizen Representative to the Maryland Governor’s Commissioner Paul Roberts said:
Mr. Quigley has a long association with the view that shale gas can be a ‘bridge fuel’ to some sort of new energy future. This misguided view is, unfortunately, also held at the highest levels of our national and political leadership. So, Mr. Quigley’s Maryland report should be seen as a key policy proposal, as well. In that regard, his effort fails. He counsels trading one form of fossil fuel dependence with a long record of environmental degradation and devastating impacts on those living in the ‘production zones’ for another form that, over time, will wreak similar damages—as already documented in his home state of Pennsylvania. Additionally, it’s by no means clear that this strategy helps our planet’s greenhouse gas emergency.
The only realistic, durable energy bridge is one built on drastic reductions in energy consumption and improved efficiencies. A sustainable future is within our grasp using present energy technologies that, when compared fairly to continued fossil fuel extraction, are highly competitive and will stimulate our economy. But this sustainable future requires dramatic short-term sacrifices and changes in the way we use energy.
In May, Gov. O’Malley told a group outside his Democratic Governors Association meeting at the National Harbor that “[they] [were] looking hard at fracking” and “[they] would get it right in Maryland.” Clearly, he believes that using Quigley and entities like the Center for Sustainable Shale Development will help make his case to the public. He clearly wants his legacy linked to fracking, which makes his public statements about studying fracking’s impacts rather misleading. If the governor were truly intent on determining fracking’s impacts before making any decisions, why has his administration been making big moves to ensure fracking’s approval by fall 2014?
This is likely a nod to an industry that has been known to contribute heavily in presidential elections, a prize that Gov. O’Malley may be shooting for in the near future. But Gov. O’Malley should be careful. The growing national anti-fracking movement has already made it well known to other potential presidential candidates like New York Gov. Cuomo (D) and Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper (D) that fracking is inherently unsafe and will not be supported by voters.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
The fracking rush in the heartland may have been unleashed by ill-conceived regulatory measures last month, but frontline organizations and citizen groups in southern Illinois are not throwing in the towel—or even taking vacations this summer.
Welcome to Fracking Independence Days.
One of the most effective and outspoken citizen groups on the frontlines in the region, SAFE—Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, has embarked on an ambitious plan to meet the frackers head on.
"SAFE has a major role in not only fighting for a healthy clean environment," SAFE activist Tabitha Smith Tripp told me, "but also that of re-educating people of their basic rights and how to interact with our government at even the local level."
SAFE plans to follow up its nearly two-year volunteer grassroots campaign and post-regulatory fracking manifesto, incorporate as a 501c3 non-profit and broaden its alliances with other extraction-impacted communities. SAFE plans to educate property owners and rural citizens on community rights as well as the short and long term risks of fracking. They plan to take the lead in monitoring water and air permits and activities, initiate legal challenges and defend its communities, Shawnee National Forests and watersheds from out-of-state fracking companies.
In essence: All that's necessary to ensure fracking-free independence in southern Illinois.
And to this end, with an unprecedented fracking rush on their doorsteps, effective frontline groups like SAFE needs support—funding, legal assistance and national backing. Now. This summer. This fall. Long-term.
Deeply rooted residents in southern Illinois are no strangers to the recklessness and devastation of extraction industries: absentee coal companies have left the region in ruin for decades, with more than 1,300 abandoned and toxic mines, destroyed farms, forests and hundreds of miles of now contaminated waterways; an oil rush in the 1940-50s left behind tens of thousands of abandoned toxic wells; and unchecked logging resulted in deforestation and erosion in the state's unique Shawnee National Forest.
Enough, says SAFE.
The days of extraction mayhem are over. For the first time in decades, with generations of experience, southern Illinois has seen an emergence of citizen groups willing to take on fracking, big coal and reckless logging operations, and are now calling for a new movement to transition to clean energy manufacturing and development, community rights and water and forest protection.
I did an interview with Tabitha Smith Tripp, who has taken a leadership role in SAFE and frontline-based anti-fracking activism on a national level. Tripp also played a key role in the recent legislative battle in Illinois to pass a moratorium instead of flawed fracking regulations. Full transcription of the interview is below.
Jeff Biggers: Describe SAFE and its role in advocating for a frack-free Illinois, and its relationship with other citizens groups and environmental organizations.
Tabitha Smith Tripp: Our mission is to ban fracking in Southern Illinois, most urgently horizontal fracking, until such a time as any extraction method presents no risk to our land, air or water. To fulfill our needs for energy, employment and habitation, this implies the need to develop non-polluting technologies which do not threaten our soil, air or water.
Our struggle is against a long-standing trend to intimidate and separate residents and communities from each other, which is antithetical to the basic concepts of democracy. If we are to succeed in protecting both our resources and our communities, we must re-establish and protect our human rights as granted by the Constitutions of the U.S. and the State of Illinois, and to fulfill our human duty to protect the soil, water, air, wildlife and human beings so that we might prosper, and that we might be good stewards of these resources. In our efforts to ban fracking, it is also our mission to awaken a community spirit among the people of Southern Illinois and create a popular movement that educates people to their rights and mobilizes them to act in the protection of these rights.
SAFE is (or will be soon) a not-for-profit 501c3 charitable organization, operating independently of other groups but in conjunction with those organizations or citizen groups who also choose to work boldly toward a ban on fracking.
Biggers: What are SAFE's main immediate needs, in terms of funding, office space, outreach and wider support?
Tripp: The movement is in a new phase. I can only presume to guess that a full time and a part time staffed position are needed, as well as retaining an attorney for many of the legal concerns raised on a daily basis.
All the things that go into an office...rent utilities, phone, copier, paper, print cartridges, tp etc. I would need more time to research the approximate figure for the basics
Travel expenses: it is three hours north to the thick of the New Albany shale—a tank of gas and 360 miles—if we have volunteer groups willing to do water testing of surface water we should be willing to compensate mileage at what cost I don't know, but if SAFE gets a 501c3 then what SAFE can't cover would then be a tax deduction.
Fracking poses a risk to the commons; air and water. Rural Illinois citizens need to have access to funds to have their water tested for specific chemicals that will provide the water well owner burden of proof evidence should there be contamination of a well. Currently the law does not test residents out side of a 1500' radius of the well bore and the well may extend up to a mile or more—it has been suggested that anyone within one kilometer of the well bore in any direction should have their well tested.
A basic pre-frack test is about $400. SAFE would like to have a fund to help families in need who would like testing but other wise can't afford it. If nothing else a Illinois tax credit when using a certified lab.
Air monitoring devices—radioactivity monitoring devices for alpha and gamma particle, water testing at a certified lab is minimum of $400 each. The needs of this movement are vast.
Biggers: Illinois is once again in the mist of an incredible coal mining rush—with a nearly 25 percent increase in the last year, and a five-fold increase in coal exports. Should frontline anti-fracking and coal mining groups be working together to deal with the extraction rush, and do you think groups like SAFE also need to be discussing "transition" efforts to clean energy production?
Tripp: The extraction industries are a perpetual boom bust cycle that has plagued Southern Illinois for as long as it has been inhabited by Europeans. Whether it was salt mining, logging, the various forms of coal removal, conventional oil drilling or hydro-carbon extraction via high volume high pressure horizontal fracturing, it perpetuates a mentality of victimization and enables rural communities to remain in a state of helplessness, instead of learning healthy means of sustainability via alternate means of commerce.
SAFE would gladly welcome conversations and the opportunity to create a regional planning group focused on transitional and long term strategies for maintaining a local economy based on sustainability and clean energy methods.
We plan for our children's education, we buy life insurance just in case—so they are "taken care of" in the event of an untimely death, but I find it ironic that when we talk to our elected officials about how to insure a healthy environment for our children's future, it falls on deaf ears. There is no contingency plan
I mentioned this idea to the Sierra Club: I wanted to be part of the 2050 club—the planning committee for the future, to anticipate 40 years down the road what our children can expect, to mitigate the pollution in terms of generation instead of elections—well you know what happened: I was told good luck getting members and laughed at.
If we could work together with other anti extraction groups in southern Illinois, what would that look like? At one point, we considered going to friends in coal mining to wage a bet—but that's like selling your soul to the devil.
Based on the latest research for coal in Illinois—it's costing taxpayers $20 million annually—what will the cumulative cost of fracking burden our children with? By taking back our communities from corporations and their subsequent greed, creating allies in similar pro-environmental groups, we could shift the tides, make use of shared resources and educate more rural areas to the propaganda and fallacies that spread virally in the words "jobs, economic boost, economic stimulation, etc."
Biggers: With the new fracking regulatory rules on the books in Illinois, what do you see as the main priorities for SAFE and impacted residents in southern Illinois this summer and fall?
Tripp: SAFE's primary goal is to continue to educate property owners and rural citizens on the short and long term risk of fracking. We value our constitutional right, IL Article XI, to a healthy environment. SAFE will continue to support a moratorium and work towards a ban. Another of SAFE's primary goals is litigation at the state level based upon the right to a healthy environment. SAFE would also like to help counties and local governments put ordinances in place that protect the communities from the abuse of industry
As far as what the public can be doing to prepare and SAFE will be assisting with these as much as possible as a resource to IL residents:
—Every one should be taking before pictures, to document what your communities look like before frackers come to town. Document what the roads look like, the lack of light in the evening in rural settings. Make recordings of the sound of nature in communities and rural settings.
—Test for radioactivity—I laughed about this at first, but hey if there is no "before" you can't prove it after—and by after it may be ten years from now that all your neighbors end up with breast cancer and you can say well back then....and now there is "x" in the air or water.
—The water testing is a big one.
—Counties have the right to enact road restrictions, sound ordinances, light ordinances (fracking rigs operate day and night, trucks don't stop delivering fuel, water or chemicals) Surface owners need to be educated about their rights with regard to forced pooling and forced integration.
—Did I say water testing yet? I really can't express the importance of this enough. Another issue that I hadn't thought of was having the flow rate testing and documented. As we have seen in other states, like Colorado and even in place like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and most recently Michigan, water sources will be depleted, especially in times of drought. Measuring the flow rate of water wells will grant the home owner some validity when a well goes dry and a complaint is made to the state and consequentially in litigation. Once a property has been depleted of a water source the property value then decreases considerably making the home less salable and desirable.
—Get a current appraisal or updated tax assessing. It could be that the value of your real estate drops due to one of the side effects of fracking—dry well, pollution, air quality, road spill.....
—Blood testing for chemicals frequently found near fracking sites.
—Are local EMT and first responders equipped to handle an emergency, know who to call in the event of a spill—that 1-800 number should be plastered in every news paper throughout Southern Illinois.
—Citizens need to know how to object to a permit. SAFE at this time does not have the staff or the resources to fight each and every permit that comes through. We highly encourage everyone to participate in the process of public hearings as it is our only means of democracy at this point in the industry's game. They will need experts and current research, attorneys to work pro-bono or reduced rates...there is much work to be done, and SAFE needs staff and resources to be the most beneficial for this movement.
Biggers: Mainstream environmental groups based far from fracking operations are now raising funds to monitor fracking operations, and continue frack-free advocacy outreach. Do you think funders, such as foundations, need to put more money into grassroots and impacted frontline movements like SAFE?
Tripp: The extreme diversity of Illinois, whether it is the imbalance of population or the cultural differences, climate or varied topography from one end of the state to the other make outreach and education throughout the targeted fracking zone an issue. Rural organizing and movement building in the back roads of deep southern Illinois is a arduous and fiscally demanding task. Grassroots activist do what they do because most often it is their community at risk.
Covering the expenses of devoted volunteers for simple things like fuel and mileage for educating citizens about water testing or document printing, or sharing a question and answer meeting with concerned property owners, is something we can't offer currently, SAFE feels that may be one of the ways to boost volunteers help by covering legitimate expenses.
Attorney who have graciously and selflessly helped SAFE with legal documents and advice have "real" jobs. Legal advice and assistance is necessary for SAFE to continue to be effective and informative to citizens in southern Illinois, we would like to be able to retain an attorney. All these are "things" that big national organizations already have due to the multiple issue they are involved in.
SAFE is in the thick of it all, at the fore front of the fight, resources are sparse and the work load is heavy. Funding would help immensely.
Biggers: Despite various concerns over loopholes and enforcement, the fracking regs recently passed in Illinois thanks to the support small cadre of non-impacted environmental groups based in Chicago, Springfield, and Urbana. Do you feel frontline citizen groups like SAFE have been left out of the larger fracking discussion in Springfield (and Washington, DC), and if so, what role should they play in the future?
Tripp: There are select few making decisions for a great many folks. It's happening in Illinois, it's happening in DC. This is no surprise. SAFE was left out, we had no representation from southern Illinois except for Rep. Bradley (D-IL) who was the sponsor of regulatory bill.
What role do grassroots groups play in the future of policy making? (My attitude is one of disgust and dismay.) In my news feeds on line, I see all kinds of grassroots efforts to initiate change in the system and the powers that be. I see protest and uprisings, I see indigenous groups holding back trains and tents in New York city parks, but I see a great majority of people who have been oppressed long enough and often enough that disempowerment has rooted itself like mustard grass here in the Prairie state. SAFE has a major role in not only fighting for a healthy clean environment, but also that of re-educating people of their basic rights and how to interact with our government at even the local level.
So many people, myself included, have never been to a county board meeting, sat in week after week, to press upon an issue dear to their heart.
Giving people the courage, the tools and the knowledge to impress upon elected officials that change is needed to insure a stable and sustainable future for the next generation is a positive role that SAFE and any other grassroots can model.
Biggers: How did you get involved with SAFE?
Tripp: A friend sent me a movie link about fracking, it was Gasland. I was in tears while I watched it, appalled and speechless. I thought "what are we doing to our children?" I have two young kids, we live on a fourth generation family farm with a well, and it's really good water. I had hoped that my kids would have a small lot next door and make themselves the fifth generation on the farm. But without clean water, there is no reason to stay.
I began to research the chemicals, the pollution, the waste disposal methods, the derailing of democracy in small communities where fracking had occurred, met people who had lost their water to vertical "conventional" fracking. This isn't an issue that was going away without a fight.
One of the most astonishing facts I learned was 85 percent of Illinois would be at severe to moderate risk for water shortages by the year 2050. This was a study commissioned by Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the environmental groups supporting the regulations. What is even worse is the numbers used in calculating these figures did not take into account the exorbitant amount of water permanently withdrawn from the hydrological cycle, nor did it take into account accelerated increases of atmospheric temperatures dues to increases methane emissions due to the fracking "boom."
How, in their right mind, could anyone one say that trading water, clean water, for fossil fuel and strong regulations is a good idea. Jobs wont mean anything if there is no water to drink. So I became involved with SAFE after the first public meeting. I will fight for what I love and what I believe in. Like most parents, you do anything and everything to protect your kids from harm.
Biggers: Do you consider SAFE to be the main frontline fracking organization in Illinois?
Tripp: SAFE is one of the few organizations in the thick of the battle, we have active members spread across all of Southern Illinois and as far north as White county. We have been actively meeting since March of last year and have many devoted volunteers doing a massive amount of public service and education. It would be egotistical to think we are the only group fighting fracking over the 1,000's of miles in Southern Illinois, but we have made our presence known in Springfield as well as nationally.
We have recently heard through the grapevine that the group RACE and Friends of Bell Smith Springs are becoming active again as the threat of fracking looms over the Shawnee National Forest. SAFE welcomes our allies, local and statewide to join us here Southern Illinois in the fight to ban fracking in our rural communities.
SAFE, like all citizens groups on the frontlines, needs your help.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
HOW ARE YOU ASSISTING IN THE FIGHT AGAINST FRACKING?
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Since shale gas drilling began in Pennsylvania a decade ago, the PA Democratic Party has sought to tax and regulate drilling. That all changed on June 15 when the PA State Democratic Committee voted 115—81 to support a resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking.
The resolution, drafted by Susan Lyons, a member of the Monroe County delegation, calls for a moratorium until fracking can be proven safe. A version of the resolution offered at the committee’s last meeting was blocked from making it to the floor for a vote, so Berks Gas Truth, a grassroots community group, organized an action with co-sponsors Clean Water Action, Food & Water Watch, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth, Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens Group, Protecting Our Waters, Shale Justice and the United Sludge-Free Alliance to move the resolution forward.
“We really wanted the full committee to have an opportunity to weigh in on the resolution, but I don’t think any of us expected to get it passed this time,” said Karen Feridun, Berks Gas Truth's founder.
Members of Berks Gas Truth started planning to take action in May when they learned that the resolution would be up for consideration again in June. “We were discussing what we’d like to do for Stop the Frack Attack’s National Month of Action when our Patti Rose realized that the Dems meeting was being held mid-month. The timing was perfect,” said Feridun.
The group started by promoting the action online, inviting people to participate in conference calls where the plans were explained. The organizers encouraged registered Democrats to attend all of the sessions, meetings and social events, handing out buttons and literature. All others would protest in Lancaster’s Penn Square directly across from the Lancaster Convention Center.
“We provided people with the list of committee members and told them to start calling. We told registered Dems to be sure to ask to be proxies for those who planned to miss the meeting. Proxies can not only vote, they can speak from the floor,” explained Feridun who was herself a proxy, as was the Shale Justice Coalition’s Wendy Lynne Lee.
“People were lining up proxies. Some even changed parties just to attend the meetings. Several people I spoke with were learning for the first time that there’s such a thing as a state Democratic committee out there to lobby,” says Feridun.
The committee’s 59 percent to 41 percent vote mirrors the results of a recent poll by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan, in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in which nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians supported a moratorium on fracking. Two weeks earlier, environmental organizations led by PennEnvironment delivered 100,000 petition signatures calling for a moratorium to Gov. Corbett (R-PA). Sen. Ferlo (D-PA) announced that day that he is introducing a moratorium bill. Five Democratic legislators have signed on so far.
Most who spoke from the floor prior to the vote spoke in favor of the resolution. Rosie Skomitz, a member of the Berks Delegation and an active member of Berks Gas Truth, challenged the party to take a firm stand against fracking and pointed out that a Democratic senator was introducing a moratorium bill that had already picked up five Democratic co-sponsors.
One of the members to express her opposition was Vice-Chair Penny Gerber who said, “This bill (sic) as it currently stands says it is a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, but it specifies that the moratorium will last until the practice can be done safely. Because no set period of time is provided it truly is a ban on fracking, and this is a thriving industry. It is for that reason I cannot support this bill (sic).” Incidentally, Gerber works as an associate for Ceisler Media & Advocacy whose clients include Chesapeake Energy, Reliant Energy and Spectra Energy.
“When I heard Gerber make the point that a moratorium until fracking can be done safely is in effect a ban, I thought, ‘Right! That’s our point exactly! It can never be proven safe!’” said Feridun
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.