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To Frack Or Not To Frack? Will Maryland Legislators Place Constituents’ Health At Risk?

 

“I’m a farmer, which is where the story starts,” began Kim Alexander.

Worried about health problems and the environmental impact from fracking, Kim recounted her long walk. “In October, my friend and I took to the road, the trail, the river side; 320 miles across the state of Maryland in a walking performance to educate, celebrate and protect our watershed and the communities it supports, from the far ranging impacts of natural gas development.”

Kim also visited Dimock, Pa., and gathered water from the Ely family, whose well water was made undrinkable by fracking.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” - Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” – Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

I would frequently see the drilling in rural Pennsylvania when I worked in Butler and Williamsport hospitals. I was particularly disturbed by a scene at Summit Elementary like this, which, given what we know about the health dangers of fracking, struck me as a terrible threat to children.

     Natural gas flaring - school - image by Kelly Finan

Natural gas flaring – school – image by Kelly Finan

Recently, I attended an Allegany College of Maryland meeting of the Western Maryland (WMD) state legislators on fracking. I then went to Frostburg State University to get background for this series and met Kim and other activists, and have followed their path, learning about the health risks I outlined in my earlier posts.

Background on Maryland bills

There are two competing bills in the Maryland legislature that will soon come up for a vote. SB0740/HB1325 would prohibit fracking in Maryland. Another competing bill, SB0862, from Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D) calls for a referendum county-by-county and further study and regulations. While this initially might sound reasonable, it’s not. One obvious problem is that if residents oppose the fracking, a new bill to challenge that can be proposed every year (p. 3, sec G3-4). A re-vote is not a provision if the pro-fracking faction wins. Carter Conway’s bill specifies that the regulations are to rely on the recommendations of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission and of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but excludes studies from Johns Hopkins and other research institutions from consideration. Why would that be?

We know that the EPA has failed to protect residents from drilling, as I explained here. Public Herald has recently released a thorough study showing that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has hidden more than 9,000 complaints.

Given that about three-quarters of Maryland’s residents live in places where anti-fracking resolutions are in place, allowing fracking to be decided by the two westernmost counties is likely to disenfranchise them and put their health at risk.

Also, as Barbara Hurd, local resident and acclaimed writer, recently put it, “We live in places intricately bound to other places. Our communities are connected to other communities; our habitats to other lands. The effects of fracking do not abide by jurisdictional boundaries. No regulations can stop polluted water and tainted air from traveling wherever they will.”

Growing health concerns, yet division over fracking in MD

At the Allegany College information session, anti-fracking comments from citizens dominated. At the last Cumberland City Council meeting, 42 attended to support the ban and 13 spoke against fracking. At both, concerns focused on:

  • Air and water pollution and health risks from fracking

  • Increased traffic and accidents on windy roads

  • Lack of transparency, non-disclosure agreements and gag orders to hide harms

  • Lack of trust in safety regulations and monitoring.

  • Risk to the livelihood of the farmers and to the tourism industry

Dr. Robin Bissell, a family practice physician in Garrett County since 1999, worries about possible contamination of our water especially because so many families use wells so there’s little chance of detecting contamination if it occurs. Furthermore, with the weakening of the EPA, it’s unlikely that adequate regulation will occur.

Also, there are documented increases in asthma exacerbations due to air contamination. With ACA being threatened, many of our patients may find themselves without insurance. If they have symptoms, they may not seek medical attention when they should.

Two other Garrett County physicians concur. Dr. Tom Johnson added, “It is not prudent for our community to accept this risk at this time.” Another physician, who specifically noted that he is a Republican and Trump supporter, also opposes fracking in WMD.

Medical associations are increasingly voicing their opposition. The Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting the bill to ban fracking altogether in Maryland, as is the Maryland Public Health Association. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Medical Society unanimously approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking, because of the growing evidence of its harms.

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions - image courtesy Food and Water Watch

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions – image courtesy Food and Water Watch

A poll by OpinionWorks in 2015 showed 68% of Maryland residents wanted a ban or long-term moratorium; only 3% favored fracking. A similar poll last fall did not include the moratorium; 56% supported a ban vs. 28%. The margin in Garrett County, where most drilling would occur, and a Washington Post poll last fall had similar results.

The Western Maryland delegates are strongly pro-fracking and keep telling people that they have strong support from the citizens of WMD, although all the polls above contradict that. I have reached out to three local state legislators for further comment. Senator George C. Edwards returned my call. Edwards tried to reassure me about health risks. I asked, “You say that fracking will be safe and well-regulated…but who will do that?” Edwards responded, “We’re going to have the strictest regs… We’re not Pa.!” Asked about the safety of all the heavy trucking equipment carrying chemicals, polluted wastewater and possibly liquefied natural gas maneuvering on windy, mountainous roads in an area notorious for blowing snow and fog, he deflected the question, saying that gas would be transported across Maryland by pipeline—about 250 miles—presumably to Dominion Cove Point’s processing facility on the Chesapeake.

Recent protests against TransCanada’s plan to run a pipeline under the Potomac River, the water source for millions of people in the metropolitan D.C. area, also illustrate the health concerns.

Further casting doubt on reliance on regulatory oversight for our safety is Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) inaugural statement, “We must get the state government off our backs, and out of our pockets, so that we can grow the private sector.”

That’s similar to the Trump administration’s vows to deregulate safety requirements across the board and to dismantle agencies. Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA multiple times, is now the head of the EPA. It is unlikely that he or Gov. Hogan would then monitor and enforce environmental regulations.

Also, to my surprise, Del. Wendell Beitzell, who was assistant director of environmental health at the Garrett County Health Department, said at the ACC meeting, “Fracking poses no threats.”

Conflicts of interest

Beitzel’s comment astonished me, so I wondered why he felt so strongly. He apparently has considerable financial incentive to support fracking. In 2011, Maryland spent $455,000 for agreeing not to develop his farmland in Garrett County. Beitzel also introduced a bill, despite the conservation easement, to allow drilling.

Now, Beitzel has sponsored bill HB1461, cross-filed in the Md. Senate by Edwards as SB0980, to provide restitution for large landholders who can’t frack their land if there is a ban. Where do they propose the funding for this come from? The owners of renewable energy systems that generate electricity through the solar energy photovoltaic systems would be taxed 25% of their sales for this “restitution fund.” There is, of course, no similar restitution fund for damages caused by fracking.

Jobs

There is a common misconception, promulgated by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D), who said that fracking “affects two counties where there are no jobs whatsoever” other than prisons. This is not true, as tourism has been increasing in the counties. A recent op-ed noted, “Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two ­thirds of Garrett County’s tax base…nowhere in the world do fracking and world­-class tourism mix.”

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. - Rafting image - courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing - Mike Cline, Wikipedia

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. –
Rafting image – courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing – Mike Cline, Wikipedia

When Kim canvassed local businesses, no one supported fracking. The only people who did not sign the ban petition expressed fear that signing would hurt their businesses.

Buckel’s office e-mailed me that he believed fracking could bring “492 to 2,425” jobs. But on a WCBC radio interview, he said, “It might provide “25, 50, 100, 250 jobs”.  More alternative facts, it seems. Note, too, that mostly out-of-state workers get the high-paying jobs. Local worker jobs are usually low-paid, low-skill, part-time jobs.

Tourism is also on the upswing. Garrett County has seen over 6% growth in tourism in 2016, with real estate making a comeback from historic lows in 2008, up 16% this same year. A report produced by the Outdoor Industry Association found that recreation employed about 6.1 million people, vs. 2.1 for oil and gas.

A new report from the Department of Energy says that 3.4 million Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry in 2016 vs. 3 million for fossil fuels. Further, renewable energy employment grew by nearly 18% between Q2 2015 and Q1 2016.

Conclusion

It has been heartening to witness grassroots mobilization and activism. These people in WMD love their land and are driven to protect it and downstream communities. Kim even wrote this anti-fracking ballad:

There is growing opposition to fracking by health, environmental and conservation groups. New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have statewide bans or moratoria. Florida is considering a ban to protect its tourism and water—a bill that has notable bipartisan support.

"Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing." - image ©LuckyG

“Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing.” – image ©LuckyG

Instead of focusing on bills that risk our clean water, clean air and our countryside, it would seem far wiser to reward innovative approaches to land use and investments in renewable energy and tourism, both of which have a much broader benefit to local communities and the state, and which pose no risks to our—and our children’s—health.

For more medical/pharma news and perspective, follow me on Twitter @drjudystone or here at Forbes.

 

 

Wisp Ends Ski Season Early

Ski season is over in Garrett County!

Due to the unusually warm winter, Wisp Resort has decided to end ski season early. The weather has been historically warm this season. Some days it has reached 70 degrees here in McHenry and others it has been back in the 20’s and 30’s.

Wondering what the Wisp looks like right now?

Here is a view of the Wisp from Taylor-Made’s Branch Office next to Smiley’s.

For comparison, here is a photo from the Wisp taken last winter.

Wisp Resort made the announcement via Facebook Sunday evening.

Well, it was a great season while it lasted! Time to move on to springtime activities.

Guess the groundhog was wrong this year!

 

The case for a Maryland fracking ban

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Two bills are pending. One bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years — though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.

About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.

Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.

Furthermore, Maryland lacks the large-scale deposits, pipeline and processing infrastructure, and interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) needed to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices — setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.

Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings — all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.

In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.

Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake — second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.

To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.

Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders — like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015 — prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture and green energy.

Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.

Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.

The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?

Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.

Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term — measured in 20-year periods —methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.

For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.

For more information, click here.

Winter Fest- this weekend!

Due to the high temperatures we are to have the original weekend of Feb 18 – 19, Winter Fest (sculptures and vendors/crafters) have been rescheduled for February 25 & 26.

Join us in downtown Oakland for Winter Fest 2017! Master Carver Bill Sandusky will be joining us when we line the streets with over 30 ice sculptures and witness some of them LIVE! In addition, we will have a Indoor Market Place for food and craft vendors at 221 S. Third Street.  There will be a book signing with David Craig-”Greetings from Gettysburg”.  Held at Oakland B&O Museum. It is a history of the battlefield being created as a national park. Saturday from 10am-4pm.  There will be sleigh rides, great shopping and dining specials too!

UPDATE-

 

So everyone…here is the deal. Temperatures Saturday are to be in the 60’s. We are keeping everything on Saturday including the book signing, crafters, carriage rides, etc. The Deep Creek Dunk is also Saturday. 

Sunday the temperatures are to be in the mid thirties with snow! The sculptures will not go out until Sunday morning. The live carvings will also be done on Sunday. This way the carvings will last at least 24 hours and the live carvings can still be done. If we put them out on Saturday, they would only last a couple of hours and we could not do the live carvings.

This is the schedule no matter what happens weather wise! I honestly believe this is the best option in such a difficult situation. I encourage all businesses to be open on Sunday as I feel we will still get numerous visitors.

Please spread the word as much as possible. Thank you all or your patience and understanding. 

 

For more information, click here.

 

Deep Creek Lake & Garrett County, Maryland Offer Military March Promotion

The Deep Creek Lake area and Garrett County, Maryland salute our nation’s heroes with a Military March promotion. The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce is offering discounts for military members on their website, www.visitdeepcreek.com. The promotion, which is sponsored by GCC Technologies, LLC,  runs from March 1 – March 31, 2017, non-holidays.

Twenty-three businesses are participating in the promotion offering military discounts on dining, shopping, lodging, groceries, design work, clothing, glassware, car purchases, oil changes, hot tubs,  lift tickets, rentals, lessons and snow tubing.

“The Military March promotion is a terrific way for military members and their families to save on a trip to the Deep Creek Lake area and Garrett County,” said Sarah Duck, Director of Tourism & Marketing for the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. “We are proud to honor our nation’s heroes with discounts from a wide variety of our area’s businesses.”

The Military March Promotion includes offers from Bear Creek Traders, Cabin on Farm View Rental Home, CurlyRed Inc., Deep Creek Beverage, Deep Creek Shop ‘n Save Fresh Featuring Mountain Flour Bakery, Haley Farm Inn & Retreat Center, Joyce’s Deep Creek Rentals and Trips, Lake Pointe Inn, Ledo Pizza, Pasta & Pub, Long Branch Saloon & Motel, McHenry Beverage Shoppe, Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Railey Mountain Lake Vacations, Rudy’s Clothing, Savage River Lodge, Simon Pearce Factory Outlet and Glassblowing, Suites at Silver Tree, Taylor-Made Deep Creek Vacations, Team One Chevrolet Buick GMC, The Hot Tub Store, Uno Chicago Grill Deep Creek, Will O’the Wisp Resort and Wisp Resort.

To redeem the offers, military members simply need to show a valid military ID when purchasing. Blackout dates and other restrictions may apply; please see specific details and restrictions for each offer at https://www.visitdeepcreek.com/pages/MilitaryMarch2017.

To view all of the military March offers or for more information about Garrett County, please stop by www.visitdeepcreek.com or call 888.387.5237.

 

for more information, click here.

 

NEW LISTING- 2372 Mayhew Inn Road

Check out my listing on Mayhew Inn Road!

4BR/3BA lake area home on 2 wooded/private acres! Features tongue & groove ceilings, hardwood floors, exposed beams, Avonite countertops, eat-in kitchen w/ plenty of storage and cabinet space.

HUGE master suite with custom tile shower + oversized closet & washer/dryer. 2nd stackable unit upstairs! Paved driveway. Stamped patio. Heated garage with storage area + outdoor shed.

Must see!

For more information, click here.

 

GRMC OPENS NEW URGENT CARE FACILITY IN GRANTSVILLE

Representatives from Garrett Regional Medical Center and local dignitaries joined forces to cut the ribbon for the newest expansion of GCMC, a brand new primary and urgent care facility in Grantsville.

The lobby of Medical Associates of Grantsville was full of colleagues, staff, and community members from Grantsville and surrounding areas who gathered to celebrate the opening of the new and much needed facility.  Guests were able to tour the 5,500 square foot, state of the art office while the staff was on hand to answer questions.  The new center houses three exam rooms for primary care, four rooms for urgent care, a space for laboratory services, three procedure rooms, and a radiology area. The facility was designed with efficiency and patient comfort and accessibility, in mind.

County Commissioner Paul Edwards said, “I am very excited for Garrett Regional Medical Center to expand into Grantsville.  The services that this opens up to residents on the northern end of the county and the health care infrastructure that this helps build is a huge benefit to quality of life, as well as economic development in the area.”

“I have lived in Grantsville my entire life and this is my community.  I’m happy for the opportunity to provide healthcare in a time of need and empower my patients and neighbors to be healthy,” said Tammy Crayton, who will be leading the urgent care practice.

GRMC will also be hosting an open house for the public to showcase the new Medical Associates of Grantsville Urgent Care facility on Tuesday, February 14th.  Guests are welcome from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

This event offers an opportunity for local residents to come and see what the facility has to offer, meet the staff, and ask any questions they may have.  There will be staff on hand to provide services and educational material on important health issues.  Services include free screenings for blood pressure, osteoporosis, sugar levels and facial skin analysis.

The urgent care center and radiology services will be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.  The primary care facility will be open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Laboratory services will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

 

for more information, click here.

NEW LISTING- 1041 Rock Lodge Road

Check out my new listing on Rock Lodge Road!

4BR/3BA renovated cottage (2009) with ~1200sf addition on coveted Rock Lodge Rd. Gutted to studs & rebuilt with extra insulation. Original fireplace! Very well maintained.

Covered porch offers seasonal lake views. Rear deck backs to woods & surrounded by huge, moss covered boulders.

Low maintenance yard. 2 furnaces; energy efficient design. Vaulted ceilings. Paved driveway with plenty of parking.

for more information, click here.

 

Jump on in, the water’s fine! I’ll wait here

funny opinion article from the frederick news-post.

Most people have likely witnessed that the world in which we live has a substantial number of people with questionable judgment — at least I think their judgment needs some work. What brings this to mind is that I’ve discovered that I volunteer for an organization that supports activities for these very people. I’m new to the organization since June 2016 and am still discovering the ins and outs.

The allure of joining this organization was the good works that it does around Maryland for both people and wildlife. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it supports large numbers of manic individuals.

In reading the schedule of upcoming activities, I’ve discovered that this organization supports and is involved with the Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park. There are more. On Feb. 25, there’s a Freezin’ for a Reason dunk up at Deep Creek Lake. On March 4, at Rocky Gap State Park they have something they call the Hooley Plunge. Maybe “hooley” is another word for “out of your mind.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that these events are held for good and charitable reasons. Supporting charities is an admirable effort. Jumping into water that’s less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit is a totally different story. Rightfully or wrongfully, I consider such activity a potentially heart-stopping event.

It’s not that I haven’t had the experience. I know whereof I speak. A “few years ago,” when I was in high school, I found myself in a small boat about 50 yards off a rocky coast in 30 feet of water near Gloucester, Mass. (I still say “Mass.” because virtually my whole family and myself were born there — it’s a local thing). Gloucester is north of Cape Cod — that means cold, cold water. The Cape pushes the Gulf Stream far from shore. Young, bullet-proof teenager that I was, I decided to dive in prior to donning a wet suit; big mistake. I hit the water, surfaced and tried to breathe. Wow! I could take in only “little sips” of air. My breath was literally taken away, and I wondered if I could make it back to the boat. My point? I know what cold water feels like and need no reminders. Don’t like it!

Almost as bad are those who a year or so ago engaged in a fad of challenging others to dump buckets of ice water over their heads. All right, that’s not as bad as total immersion, but what’s the point? I’ve dealt with a fairly significant number of discomforts in my life — my time in the Army comes to mind. I’ve never been one to go out of my way to voluntarily seek discomfort.

So, for you crazed plungers out there who find such activities to be fun and exhilarating, knock yourselves out. Please don’t take that literally. While the Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point on Jan. 28 has already happened, two that don’t get so much attention are Feb. 25 at Deep Creek and March 4 at Rocky Gap. Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that they’re all for good causes. For myself, it’s much more comfortable to offer support from shore or just write a check.

Enjoy yourselves. I’ll watch from a distance. BTW, the group that offers support for these extreme immersions is our own Maryland Natural Resources Police.

for more information, click here.