Got Shale? What Marylanders Should Expect Without a Permanent Ban on Fracking for Shale Gas

Drilling and fracking for shale gas continues to expand across the East Coast despite consumer outcry over the environmental and health risks associated with this dangerous form of fossil fuel extraction. Now, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has identified new potential targets in central and southern Maryland, as well as the Eastern Shore, in addition to the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland. The oil and gas industry and their advocates can be expected to treat Maryland like a sacrifice zone in order to extract as much gas as possible unless we implement a permanent ban on fracking for oil and gas in the state.

Fracking is the controversial process of injecting a mixture of water and possibly toxic chemicals underground at high speed to break up shale, releasing methane and other gases along with radon. The process has already been linked to tainted drinking water in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. And storage of the wastewater produced by fracking is suspected in causing a series of small earthquakes in eastern Ohio.

For now, while the oil and gas industry has its prospects set on fracking in two counties in Western Maryland, they claim that their expansion will not include areas within the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. But this is just lip service. Consumer and environmental groups understand that over the long-term, the oil and gas industry's run of record-breaking profits depends on acquiring new reserves.

That means it's just a matter of time before they'll be pushing to drill and frack in the basins identified by the USGS: the Gettysburg, which stretches south from the Pennsylvania border, passing beneath Frederick; the Taylorsville, which stretches south from beneath Annapolis to the lower Potomac; the Del Marva, which consists of several separate rock formations beneath much of the Bay and the Eastern Shore; and the Culpeper, which stretches north from Virginia under western Montgomery County near Gaithersburg and north to Frederick.

For Marylanders who would be exposed to the risks and costs of fracking and who want to learn more and weigh in on the future of our state, it will not be easy to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Thanks to the oil and gas industry's well-financed public relations machine, you won't hear how most of the new jobs the industry promises will go to out-of-state workers with oil and gas industry experience, not to local Marylanders. And you won't hear them talk about how much of this gas will be exported to Europe, Japan and China.

Get ready to defend your state from the powerful lobbying arm of an industry that is deeply embedded in the halls of U.S. Congress and state and local governments across the country.

Brace yourselves for the hidden costs that will permanently change Maryland's landscape and harm local economies. The oil and gas industry will underestimate the true cost of repairing local infrastructure from the damage unleashed by up to a thousand heavy trucks rolling in and out of small towns for each new well, many transporting hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic waste. And you won't hear the industry and its advocates acknowledge the negative impacts on the sectors of the economy, such as tourism, agriculture and the fishing industry, that sustain rural Maryland communities.

Dig in for a big fight to defend your water, not only from the inevitable spills of waste as it is trucked across the state but also the long-term risk of contamination of underground sources of drinking water from injecting tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals into each well, not knowing how these chemicals will react and move over the following years and even decades. You will also need to defend your water from private entities that aim to gain control of public utilities and profit from the industry's huge demand for water for fracking.

From start to finish, fracking is too risky for Maryland -- it threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the communities we love and the climate we depend on. Marylanders should urge their representatives to support a ban on fracking. It is the only way to protect our state from the irreparable harm of a reckless industry.

Wenonah Hauter is executive director of the national consumer nonprofit organization Food & Water Watch. Shane Robinson is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Montgomery County.