With Fracking, Losses Outweigh Gains for Western Maryland

By Charles Huber, Baltimore Sun

The recent article about fracking in Western Maryland seemed to me to raise more arguments for not drilling for natural gas in Garrett County than for it (“Fracking debate intensifies in Western Maryland”), those benefits would be relatively short-term since “Western Maryland’s gas reserves are limited.”

Above photo: Liz Feighner and Elisabeth Hoffman are about to take the Polar Bear Plunge at National Harbor on January 24, 2015

Garrett resident Shawn Bender grew up near a storage well and indicated there had been no problems associated with that well. However, that is a storage facility and it does not require the use of large quantities of ground water and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process or the subsequent problems surrounding the storage and disposal of the wastewater left over from the drilling, not to mention the leaking of climate-warming gases into the air as a result of drilling.

Garrett County has far more to lose than it has to gain. While the article stated the potential of 2,425 jobs and $10 million a year in severance taxes, it also states the tourism industry supports nearly 1,900 jobs, generates nearly $300 million in tourism spending and second-home purchases. Vacation home taxes amount to more than $24 million. Mike Evans, the owner of Savage River Outfitters, was quoted as saying that if fracking is allowed in Garrett County, he would close up shop and move his business. How many other small business owners would do the same, and what would be the impact in dollars to the Garrett tourism industry?

I was particularly interested in Mountain Lake Park Mayor Leo Martin’s experience with the drilling industry from the 1950s. After that boom, the drilling companies just abandoned their sites and equipment and left the town to clean up the mess. I would expect more of the same after any fracking activity is completed, and the results from fracking will be far, far more expensive to try to clean up than what happened in the 1950s. Mayor Martin is concerned that small municipalities do not have the legal and financial resources to keep the drilling industry out of the area. I would be certain the industry will create many legal walls to fight municipalities suing when the fracking activity is completed and the environmental damage has been done. Would a small town like Mountain Lake Park have even the slightest chance against those deep pockets?

My family has vacationed at Deep Creek Lake and on the Savage River most summers for nearly 25 years. If fracking activity would have any negative effects on the area (leaked chemicals, wastewater holding ponds, gaseous emissions, etc.), it is highly unlikely we would want to ever return to the area. It’s a beautiful place, and it would be a shame to have it ruined. I would advise the Garrett County elected officials to spend some time talking with real residents living near fracking well sites in Pennsylvania and not just the landowners who benefit from the leasing rights. Find out how fracking has affected these families and communities. Once this genie is out of the bottle, there is no getting it back in.

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