County activists, residents rally against fracking in support of permanent ban

Greater Baden Aquasco Citizens Association Vice President Joanne Flynn, far right, stands with other Prince George’s County activists and Southern Maryland residents as she holds a sign that reads “President Miller: Ban Fracking Now!” during an anti-fracking rally Dec. 1 at the intersection of Old Branch Avenue and Piscataway Road in Clinton.

Prince George’s County activists and other Southern Maryland residents rallied in downtown Clinton Dec. 1 to support a permanent fracking ban, urging Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) to oppose the controversial gas drilling practice.

Fracking, short for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial process used widely in the last decade to recover previously inaccessible gas and oil stored deep underground. It requires millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals pumped at high pressure to break apart shale deposits to release the gas or oil. Many of the chemicals used are known to have carcinogenic, neurotoxic or endocrine-disrupting effects, while others have not been tested for toxicities, according to the Don’t Frack Maryland website.

Drilling and fracking have led to widespread reports of ground and surface water contamination, significant air quality problems, public health harms, economic losses to communities, earthquake activity and a host of other problems across the country, the website also noted.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) administration published draft fracking regulations in November that would roll back what is considered by activists already insufficient rules proposed under former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration. These rules ignore mounting evidence that fracking cannot be done without causing polluted air and water and serious harm to people’s health, according to Food & Water Watch Maryland senior organizer Thomas Meyer.

“It’s a dangerous form of drilling for oil and natural gas that pollutes drinking water and makes people sick,” Meyer said in an interview. “We want to make sure that Senate President Miller knows how his constituents feel and is taking the right side of the issue.”

Meyer, who spearheaded the rally in Clinton, said there’s no evidence that fracking can be made safe with regulations.

More than 900 peer-reviewed publications assessing the effects of shale gas development now exist, with more than 230 published so far in 2016. Of the peer-reviewed publications on the health effects of fracking, 86 percent found risks or adverse health outcomes.

Maryland’s Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) also concluded that risks to public health and the environment are “high” or “moderately high” in seven of eight areas studied. More than half of the peer-review publications have been released since MIAEH completed its study in the summer of 2014, according to Don’t Frack Maryland.

In addition to the broad scientific trends showing that fracking is a threat to air, water and health, several recent studies have uncovered more specific impacts.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and collaborating institutions, published a study in August of this year which analyzed responses to questionnaires received from more than 7,000 adult primary care patients in central and northern Pennsylvania. Statistics from the study showed significant associations between proximity to active fracking operations, as well as various combinations of migraine headaches, chronic rhinosinusitis and fatigue symptoms, according to Don’t Frack Maryland.

Furthermore, the state of New York banned fracking in 2014, citing public health risks as well as studies that have since linked fracking to increases in asthma attacks, migraines, sinus infections, fatigue and even pre-term births, the press release noted.

Meyer said no regulatory framework has been shown to prevent significant harm.

As Hogan’s administration prepares to allow fracking in the state as soon as October 2017, several state legislators have vowed to introduce legislation to ban the controversial practice in the upcoming General Assembly session.

“We’d like to get Senator Miller’s attention and also just increased awareness about the ban on fracking we want to promote,” said Joanne Flynn, a Brandywine resident who is vice president of the Greater Baden Aquasco Citizens Association. “Recently, we’ve had power plants in Brandywine and that’s all part of the fracking boom. People don’t get the connections sometimes and that’s what happens to communities — they’re getting fracked or power plants or pipelines or compressor stations. And it’s not for the benefit of us. We’ve got to phase out fossil fuels.”

Maryland’s Department of the Environment recently released draft regulations for fracking and may begin issuing permits as early as October 2017. Therefore, It is critical that the General Assembly pass a permanent ban on this dangerous industrial activity during the 2017 legislative session, according to Don’t Frack Maryland.

For Flynn, it’s important to protect natural resources in Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland — that means banning fracking across the state, she said.

“There’s a big disconnect there. Yeah, we need jobs but that’s too general,” she said. “I’m with a community association and these are the kind of things we would review, we would talk about, we would discuss, we would let the community know. But we’re kept in the dark.”

“Some people ask me, ‘Well, what’s fracking?’ They don’t even know,” Flynn continued. “It affects us all.”

Meyer said elected officials, especially Miller, need to not only listen to his constituents, but also pay attention to the science and ban fracking once and for all.

“We need our elected representatives to actually represent us and do these quantitative risk assessments and the things that the citizens want,” Flynn said.

For more information on the campaign to ban fracking, go to www.dontfrackmd.org.

Twitter: @JClink_EnqGaz

Twitter: @JClink_EnqGaz