CUMBERLAND — Members of the citizen group Frack Free Frostburg are asking the District 1 Delegation to support a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing during the 2017 General Assembly.
The citizen group has convinced Frostburg's mayor and City Council to move forward with an ordinance to amend the city's code to ban drilling for and extracting natural gas and oil on lands owned by the city, as well as prohibiting the sale of bulk water for those purposes and related matters. A public hearing on the matter has been scheduled for Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the city's community center.
During a pre-legislative meeting last week, Frack-Free Frostburg turned its attention to the delegation.
"The Frostburg mayor and city council listened to their constituents and are acting to protect our city and its water supply from the harms that are associated with fracking," said Kathy Powell, a member of the citizens group. "Are the members of the Western Maryland delegation listening? And will you take similar action this legislative session?"
Del. Jason Buckel told Powell prohibiting hydraulic fracturing in Frostburg will not hold up if Maryland decides to go ahead with drilling.
"What then is the utility of going to the city of Frostburg or the city of Friendsville or the city of anywhere and asking them to pass a political regulation that you know legally, you're trained and I'm sure very good at social work, I'm trained as an attorney and it would make no sense whatsoever for the city of Frostburg to pass a ban that would be unenforceable if the state allowed it."
The state has a moratorium on fracking until next year. The Maryland Department of the Environment released proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing Nov. 14, opening a 30-day window for public comment. Without General Assembly action, drilling could be permitted as early as Oct. 2017.
Several Maryland legislators have promised to introduce a bill to ban fracking during the upcoming legislative session.
"I'm sure we're probably going to have a bill in to ban fracking permanently in Maryland," said Del. Wendell Beitzel, "and it will be interesting."
Constituents delivered many concerns based on what they see as potential downfalls associated with the fracking industry, such as negative environmental impact, health risks and minimum to no economic growth generated from drilling.
Jackie Sams, former Allegany County League of Women Voters president, pointed to areas of Pennsylvania with no economic gain generated since drilling has been allowed.
"Somerset County acknowledges that there is an economic downturn in the county and the financial projections for the state of Pennsylvania continue to be austere," Sams said. "There's been a lot of drilling in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is still in a world of hurt when it comes to their budget.
"Somerset County has drilled 27 wells — hasn't seen a benefit from it."
Buckel disagrees when it comes to potential economic gain.
"We disagree with you about the economic development and the impact it could have for the people who live in our area, so that our area for the first time in a generation — three generations — can grow. We disagree with you about the facts," he said.
Joy Kroeger-Mappes, a former nurse, spoke about potential cancer causing chemicals used in fracking.
"The Yale School of Public Health found that 80 percent of the more than 1,000 chemicals used in fracking failed to show any studies on their cancer causing potential. Of the remaining compounds, 55 where identified as confirmed or possible carcinogens and 20 of those are linked with increased risk of leukemia or lymphoma."
Sen. George Edwards said Maryland regulations will guarantee chemical disclosure.
"We will know what chemicals are in this. If we get to the point to drill, they will have to tell us what's in it and we will get that information out to the appropriate people."
Beitzel is a fifth-generation Garrett County resident where drilling could be most prevalent. He said the divide is tearing the county apart.
"I've never, never seen in Garrett County of all the time I've lived there and all the people I've met and grown up with such a divide in the community like this fracking issue has caused."