How Fracking In Maryland Would Threaten The Health Of Anyone Who Breathes Nearby

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"How Fracking In Maryland Would Threaten The Health Of Anyone Who Breathes Nearby"

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CREDIT: AP Photo/Jim Suhr

Fracking in Maryland would pose a risk of harmful air pollution and would bring jobs that could be dangerous for workers, a new report has found.

The report, published by the University of Maryland and commissioned by a 2011 executive order by Gov. Martin O’Malley, looked at the risks that fracking would bring to Maryland, a state that so far doesn’t have any natural gas wells. The report ranked the likelihood that several risks associated with fracking, including dangers to air quality and occupational health as well as the prospect of worsening noise and the threat of earthquakes, will pose problems in Maryland.

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CREDIT: University of Maryland School of Public Health

The report is the second of three reports on fracking in the state, with the third, which will be funded by the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources, expected soon. The reports are part of Gov. O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, which aims to uncover the costs and benefits natural gas drilling would bring to Maryland.

The report singled out worker health a concern for the prospect of fracking in Maryland. Though fracking would bring jobs to Maryland, the report reads, those jobs are more dangerous than others, promising a “greater risk of harmful occupational exposures than many other industries in Maryland.”

“Of particular concern are exposures to crystalline silica, hydrogen sulfide, and diesel particulate matter, as well as fatalities from truck accidents, which accounted for 49% of oil and gas extraction fatalities in 2012,” the report reads. It goes on to cite the social dangers the fracking industry poses, including “mental distress, suicide, stress, and substance abuse.”

“These social hazards also put a strain on communities, as evidenced by increased incidence in violent crime arrests, drug violations, and sexually transmitted infections,” the report reads.

As well as occupational dangers, the report highlights the possible dangers to residents who live near gas wells, including “throat & nasal irritation, sinus problems, eye burning, severe headaches, persistent cough, skin rashes, and frequent nose bleeds.” These health impacts have been documented in states that allow fracking — one Texas family won a lawsuit against an oil and gas company after they claimed a fracking operation near their home caused nose bleeds, muscle spasms, and open sores. The report also pointed out that disadvantaged populations, including children, the sick and the elderly could be more at risk from the dangers of fracking.

Earthquakes, however, weren’t a possible consequence of natural gas drilling that will pose a major public health risk in Maryland, the report found. “The potential public health effects associated with micro earthquakes resulting from hydraulic fracturing appears to be negligible, based on current literature,” the report states. Earthquakes associated with fracking are typically smaller than natural earthquakes — a new study from the U.S. Geological Survey found that earthquakes associated with fracking are typically 16 times weaker than earthquakes that occur naturally.

Still, many residents in states affected by earthquakes linked to the fracking process are concerned about the quakes — in Texas, residents of a town that’s experienced 30 fracking-related earthquakes protested fracking in January, with some expressing worries that the earthquakes would get worse.

The report provides a range of recommendations of what to do if fracking is given the go-ahead in Maryland. These include: requirements for a review of health impacts; proposals of ways to protect workers and residents from pollution; monitoring plans for air, water, and soil health; and companies disclosing the materials they use for well stimulation.

While Maryland works to determine the potential impacts of fracking in the state, its waters are serving as a possible site for new offshore wind development. An auction for 80,000 acres of land slated for offshore wind energy began Tuesday off the coast of Maryland. If the area is developed, it could provide enough energy to power 300,000 homes.

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