On Wednesday, scores of concerned Baltimore residents gathered in front of City Hall to rally attention to the danger posed by exploding trains carrying crude oil through the heart of our city. Our friends at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Clean Water Action helped organize the event. CSX bomb trains bisect Charm City; the winding route takes these dangerous vehicles by the home stadia of the Ravens and Orioles, Johns Hopkins University, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum, City Hall, the Maryland Zoo and many thousands of Baltimore’s citizens.
This week, Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a three-year moratorium on fracking. The final vote: 93-45. The House also passed a crude-by-rail measure directing the state’s environment and health departments to study risks and find out how many crude oil trains travel through Maryland. The tally: 123-14. Both have margins sufficient to sustain a veto. The Maryland Senate also passed a fracking liability bill 29-17, also a large enough margin for a veto override. The proposals now sit in the opposite chamber awaiting a hearing with the clock ticking toward the end of the legislative session.
From underneath the Howard Street Bridge, I often hear the squeak of CSX trains traveling underground on my light rail ride home. In Baltimore, we expect increases in the volume of petroleum-by-rail destined for the port terminal. The oil industry desires Baltimore as a destination so they can ship crude oil by tanker to refineries along the East Coast. And, if Congress lifts the oil export ban, these shipments will go worldwide. Targa Resources, a Texas-based company, recently filed a permit to construct a crude oil shipping facility at the Fairfield peninsula in South Baltimore.
The Marcellus Shale is a deep natural gas reserve running under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. The Utica Shale is even deeper and larger, covering parts of these states plus Kentucky and Tennessee. For the last several years, the Marcellus has been the focus of a huge boom in exploration and extraction, and more recently activity has also started in the Utica (especially in Ohio and West Virginia). New drilling technologies, like the combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, have made these deposits—long considered too difficult and expensive to drill—accessible to the industry.
This week, the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) began its 435th legislative session.
The political dynamic has changed dramatically since last year. November’s election provided us with dozens of new delegates and senators, as well as a new Republican governor, Larry Hogan.
When John Smith first sailed the Chesapeake Bay, he reported a resource teeming with oysters, crabs, and waters so clear one could see all the way to the bottom. The Bay is the world’s largest estuary. Generations of watermen- Maryland’s analog to cowboys- have shaped the very tradition and character of the region by harvesting the Bay’s bounty, driving the region’s economy, and filling the bellies of hungry crab cake aficionados.
Tonight at midnight, the Maryland legislative session will end with no progress on any bills on hydraulic fracturing. The debate over fracking in Maryland follows two parallel tracks. One track is the Governor-appointed Commission studying drilling in the state. Their report and recommendations come due this August.
This week begins the Stop the Frack Attack tour stop “Cautionary Tales from Fracked Communities”. The tour’s theme features community folks from around the country who share a common story. For each of them, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began an investigation in to the gas industry’s contamination of their water supply, only to later see the agency retreat and leaving the people without a clean source of drinking water.
This week, the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) gaveled in its 434st legislative session. Election year sessions tend to signify nothing but sound and fury. However, this time around, legislators have an opportunity to demonstrate trend-setting leadership on hydraulic fracturing policy.
On Tuesday, the same day President Obama delivered his Climate Action Plan speech at Georgetown University, the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources (MDE/DNR) released their Best Management Practices report for the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative. The comment period extends until August 9. MDE/DNR will host a public meeting July 9 at 7pm in the auditorium of Garrett College. One danger posed by drilling are the externalities the oil and gas industry generates. Externalities involve costs that businesses shift to others not involved in that business- making them external to the businesses’ own operations. Pollution, road construction and maintenance, fire, police, public safety, and public health costs borne by taxpayers exemplify these kinds of externalities. They will overwhelm the economic and environmental abilities of the State to support this heavy industrial activity.