If Targa Resources has its way, “oil bomb” trains will rumble through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on their way to the company’s proposed Curtis Bay oil storage facility. The same type of oil trains that exploded in West Virginia this week may already be chugging through Baltimore, but no one knows for sure if that’s true or not. Let’s take a look at how our country’s fracking boom may put thousands of Maryland homes squarely in a potential oil train blast zone and also learn who’s trying to protect Maryland’s citizens.
“What’s that smell?”
I asked that question when I caught a whiff of metallic gas while standing in Lyndia’s front yard. Her house is four hours west of Baltimore in West Union, a town in Doddridge County, West Virginia. Ten active fracking wells sit within one mile of her home.
Doddridge County is a hot spot in our country’s fracking boom. I visited the fracking fields there last June to learn first-hand what it’s like to be a “fracking neighbor.” I define fracking neighbor as someone who lives near a natural gas hydrofracturing, a.k.a. fracking, well. According to the Wall Street Journal, 15.3 million people live within one mile of a fracking well. In only nine years, five percent of Americans are now fracking neighbors, and that’s because 100,000 fracking wells have been drilled across 31 states.
This week, cheerleaders once again made the headlines, and strange Baltimore discoveries were right under our nose. It’s the Week in Review for Nov. 7-14: Read More →
As Marylanders have been pushing for wind energy, installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and shelling out storm water and ‘flush’ fees to clean the Chesapeake Bay, our federal government approved a massive energy project here in Maryland that couldn’t be farther from “eco-friendly.” Read More →
Tech transfer has always been one of those holy grails: you hear of success stories from academic institutions in Boston, Texas, Silicon Valley, but rarely hear the names of universities closer to home. With predictable frequency, some study or another reminds us of the drop off in Maryland between university innovation (where we score off the charts) and commercialization (where we don’t even make the playoffs). Read More →
If I could put on my paranoid-conspiracy-theorist helmet for moment (it helps me shut out the government’s hypnotizing radio waves), I have to admit I’m suspicious of the $1.5 million hydraulic fracturing study that Gov. Martin O’Malley is budgeting for. O’Malley stated that the study is needed to establish a “responsible environmental standard” for fracking in Maryland — which seems to assume beforehand that the study will not determine fracking to be unacceptable in all cases, that it will merely advise on how to frack. Read More →
As far as artistic subjects go, fracking – the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock — hasn’t yet had its Upton Sinclair moment. But maybe that’s just because no one’s used puppets and accordions to tell the story — until now, at least.
This week is your only chance to see Below and Beyond, a new offering from Philadelphia-based Ramshackle Enterprises, directed by occasional Baltimorean Donna Sellinger. Below and Beyond makes inventive use of puppets, pulleys, movements, maps, and a one-man accordion band to “explore the complications of what lies beneath our feet,” according to its director and creator. The play sold out its run of shows in Philadelphia, receiving plenty of positive feedback (“[Co-creators Beth] Nixon and [Sarah] Lowry manage a bit of scaffolding, scores of puppets and props and their own boundless energies to create a sprawling mythic journey. At turns surprising, hilarious, and earnest the piece is one that makes you stop and wonder about the workings of the city around (and below) you,” said Adrienne Mackey, the artistic director of Swim Pony Performing Arts.)
Now its cast and creators are taking it on the road, stopping in Baltimore for one night only (Saturday, May 5, 8:00 p.m.) at the Whole Gallery, with local openers Foot Talk and City Paper favorites the Annex Theatre. I’ve heard there will be an invasion of urban water buffalo. Highly recommended.
A commission set up to investigate the ins and outs of using hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — to extract natural gas in western Maryland is asking Gov. Martin O’Malley for four more months to complete the study, after the group determined that there was no way to “do the report right” in the allotted time. The commission also finds itself low on funds, since a measure that would require gas companies to foot the bill for the impact study died in the General Assembly.
O’Malley has yet to weigh in on the commission’s embattled situation, but a thorough, honest study of fracking and its effects is worth the time and money it takes, especially considering the harm it may or may not be doing to our water supply. In any event, we certainly shouldn’t be fracking the Marcellus Shale to pieces without one.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t have gas companies fund the study, as logical as it may seem. The commission may very well end up advising against fracking altogether, an outcome that becomes less viable the more gas company dollars are wrapped up in the study. This way when the study finds that fracking definitely does cause egregious harm to the environment, the gas companies can just pick up their bags and move further on down the line (yeah right — there’s no way we’re not getting fracked).
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s second try at offshore wind development died in the 2012 session of the Maryland general assembly, but it could get resurrected in a special session, if and when the governor calls one.
In the meantime, several economists have weighed in on Maryland’s energy prospects, and most have more-or-less endorsed the controversial natural-gas extraction process known as fracking (from “hydraulic-fracturing”), including Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security Initiative, who has called it a more “economically viable” alternative to wind energy.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the old political adage “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, perhaps we should start placing more emphasis on “stupid.” I mean, fracking’s economic viability is not really the issue, here, is it?
Can environmental concerns, and not just abstract and distant environmental concerns (we’re talking tap-water-you-can-set-on-fire environmental concerns!) — ever trump “the economy?” Or at least could our cost-benefit analyses start counting damage to the environment as a “cost,” even if it’s only to project how much more money will be spent purchasing bottled water?
To be fair, Frank Felder, an economics professor at Rutgers, admits that with fracking there’s “some risk to the water that has to be dealt with.” But, realistically, will those problems be “dealt with?” Who will be the ones dealing with them?
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