UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County is one step closer to banning fracking with the 5-0 vote by the county council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 17 to recommend the ban’s passage by the full council. “I think the hearing went great,” said Councilwoman Mary Lehman, the bill’s primary sponsor. “I think […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County is one step closer to banning fracking with the 5-0 vote by the county council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 17 to recommend the ban’s passage by the full council.
“I think the hearing went great,” said Councilwoman Mary Lehman, the bill’s primary sponsor. “I think there was a great variety of testimony offered by many residents with different levels of expertise. People touched on pretty much everything.”
Many county residents showed up to testify before the committee, none of them in favor of allowing fracking or hydraulic fracturing, which is a method of mining natural gas by injecting chemical-infused water at high pressure into the ground.
“I used to work and regulate these chemicals that are used in the process, and the problem is that fracking has exempted itself from reporting,” Councilwoman Deni Taveras said.
Citing trade secrets, many of the fracking companies refuse to share with the public what chemicals are used in the process. Lehman said over 632 chemicals are potentially used, including known carcinogens.
The Taylorsville Basin, running from Virginia up to Annapolis, contains natural gas that could be mined via fracking. A company has already leased land in Virginia to frack the basin, which runs under 31 percent of Prince George’s County. Most of council’s District 9 would be impacted by fracking.
“I have not come across any residents who are for fracking,” said Councilman Mel Franklin, who represents the area and lives above the deposit. “I think it’s a slam dunk.”
Nathaniel Tutt, the county council liaison from County Executive Rushern Baker III’s office, said Baker is also in favor of the ban.
“It’s good to hear he is in support of it,” Lehman said. “I just learned that this morning.”
Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros said the Maryland Petroleum Council had sent a PowerPoint presentation to the council, but no one from that organization was there in person to testify. Glaros called the presentation’s contents “offensive” in light of the other testimony.
“I think all of us were prepared to ask or pepper them with some very interesting questions,” she said.
Groups such as Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Food and Water Watch, and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), as well as students from University of Maryland, College Park, did show up to express strong support for the fracking ban. They cited health, public safety, lowered property values and environmental protection as reasons for banning the practice.
“For years, the scientific research has lagged behind this industry, but this has dramatically changed in recent years,” said Emily Wurth, water program director for Food and Water Watch. “There are now more than 630 peer-reviewed studies published on the impacts of shale gas development, which overwhelmingly” show adverse effects and serious risks from fracking, with 84 percent finding detrimental health effects, 88 percent finding raised air pollution levels and 69 percent revealing negative water quality impacts.”
Multiple residents spoke of the health problems linked to fracking, such as rashes, kidney problems, nosebleeds, nausea, lower birth weights, risk of heart and neural tube issues in newborns and more.
Katie Huffling, director of ANHE, said the health impacts affect workers in the industry as well.
“After standing outside of one of these sites for just a few minutes, everyone in my group began to feel ill,” she said. “If all of us started to feel ill with such a short-term exposure, imagine what could be happening to these workers.”
Environmental concerns also influenced many citizens’ testimony. They spoke of the threat of contaminated groundwater and wells making water unsafe for drinking, cooking or bathing as well as, in some cases, actually flammable out of the tap in heavily-fracked communities.
“We support the ban on fracking in Prince George’s County because we feel it will protect our precious water,” said Brandywine farmer Joanne Flynn, speaking on behalf of herself and her husband.
Kelly Canavan of the Anacostia Watershed Society took the argument for clean water a step further.
“The nation is looking now at Flint, Mich., and our heads are spinning and our hearts are breaking for people whose governments sold them contaminated water,” Canavan said. “Allowing fracking to take place will amount to condemning us in the same way.”
Martha Ainsworth of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club called fracking an environmental justice issue, pointing out that the southern areas of the county where the basin is located are already dealing with truck traffic and health questions from the five power plants in that area.
And, realtor Lili Sheeline cited industry studies that point to the negative affects fracking can have on property values.
“Industrial facilities have strong or significant negative impacts on nearby residential (property) values, dropping by from 5 percent to as much as 25 percent,” she said. “One study found the negative impacts were permanent.”
Other speakers offered first-hand testimonies about the impacts fracking has had in other communities across the nation.
Roy Ann Carney is a county resident who also owns property in Texas, near the Eagle Forge Shale where fracking occurs. She visits the property frequently and said she was shocked by the change in the area, with farmland being paved for truck depots and “mancamps” for workers springing up, which lead to increases in crime.
She said the area also saw greatly-increased truck traffic.
“They damage the roads – and that’s on the county, of course – they make a lot of noise and they change the character of the town,” she said.
Now that it has cleared the committee, the ban will go to the full council for a vote on March 2. Lehman said she expects the measure to pass there as well.
“I don’t see any scenario where it doesn’t pass. I hope for it to pass unanimously,” she said.