On the evening of Monday, September 26, many Marylanders were settling in to watch the historic first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a media and cultural event that some have compared to the moon landing or the last episode of M.A.S.H. There would be no doubt that all the news on Tuesday morning would be about one thing, and one thing only. It’s no coincidence that Governor Larry Hogan waited until that very evening to leak his long awaited plan to allow fracking in Maryland.
Fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing,” is an extreme fossil fuel drilling and extraction method that involves pumping underground millions of gallons of toxic fluid – a mix of water, sand and harsh chemicals such as benzene – at an immense pressure that fractures the rock and release oil or gas. It has been linked to water contamination, air pollution and human health effects where it occurs. Furthermore, fracking wastewater disposal has been linked to alarming earthquake activity; just last month, the heavily fracked state of Oklahoma experienced a 5.8-magnitude earthquake – its strongest ever – that was felt from Dallas to Kansas City.
The governor knows how controversial and unpopular fracking is – according to a recent poll, a majority of Marylanders familiar with fracking oppose it – so he hoped his plan to allow the practice in the state would fly under the radar. In fact, since his election, he’s largely sought to remain above the fracking fray entirely, rarely speaking on the issue and avoiding any declarative statements on the topic. But with the sneaky release of his draft fracking regulations last week, Hogan clearly intends to introduce fracking in Maryland. This should come as no surprise, given whom he hired to lead his environment department back in 2015.
Secretary Ben Grumbles, appointed to lead the state’s key environmental protection agency at the beginning of Gov. Hogan’s term, has a long history of supporting fracking. In fact, one could say we have Grumbles to thank for the expansion of fracking across the nation.
As an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the George W. Bush administration, Ben Grumbles orchestrated the release of a federal 2004 report that concluded fracking was safe for drinking water. Shortly thereafter, Grumbles stood by, in spite of warnings from an EPA whistleblower, as Congress used the finding of the report to justify the passage of a law specifically prohibiting the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law, now infamously known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” largely enabled the fracking boom in America and the widespread water contamination, air pollution, leaks, spills, explosions and earthquake that accompanied it.
More recently, in the face of a decade of evidence pointing to clear environmental degradation and serious human health effects associated with fracking, Mr. Grumbles has suggested that it might be appropriate to revisit some aspects of the 2004 fracking study. While this minor mea culpa is ‘too little, too late,’ for all those whose lives have been ruined by fracking in other states, it isn’t too late to protect Marylanders. Now is the time for our General Assembly to act. The legislature can ban fracking for good, and for the sake of Marylanders’ health, safety and long-term prosperity, it must.
After years of close and carful consideration, New York State banned fracking in 2014. In announcing the decision, the state health commissioner asked aloud, “Would I want my family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?” His answer: “No.” Maryland families deserve the same protection, and they are looking to the legislature to stand up for them now, since the governor hasn’t.