Most Maryland voters — 56 percent — want the state to ban fracking, according to the results of a poll released Wednesday. The state’s current moratorium on fracking is set to expire next year, and lawmakers say this session will be the last chance to pass a ban.
Those lawmakers seem to have a mandate: Twice as many voters wanted to ban fracking as supported the practice, which has been linked to poor air quality, earthquakes, water contamination, and methane leaks. In addition, state representatives who support a fracking ban were three times more likely to attract voter support than those who do not.
Prince George’s County, just outside Washington, D.C., banned fracking last spring, in a move local officials said they hoped would lead the way for a statewide ban. Montgomery County, a wealthier suburb, changed its zoning laws in such a way that fracking is essentially prohibited there as well.
Maryland put a two-year fracking moratorium in place in May of 2015 while the state studied the potential impact of fracking and drew up regulations. Under the legislation, the state Department of Environment was directed to finalize proposed regulations by October 2016. The agency has not yet submitted those regulations.
So the battle over fracking continues to rage, especially in northwestern Maryland, which could tap into natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. The debate over the practice has torn apart that rural corner of the state, which is largely agricultural. Farmers are deeply concerned that fracking will ruin the air, land, and water they depend on, while boosters say the gas industry could bring jobs to an underemployed region.
The risks of fracking are high. Living within a mile of fracking has been linked to an uptick in asthma and other respiratory illnesses. A high-profile lawsuit in Pennsylvania brought attention to potential water contamination.
In Maryland, fully a third of respondents said water contamination was their biggest concern. Only 6 percent of respondents thought there were “no risks” with fracking.
Fracking has been a driver behind the United States’ huge burst of natural gas production in the past decade. The so-called enhanced extraction technique uses high volumes of chemical- and sand-laced water, injected at high pressure into — usually — shale rock far underground. The water breaks up (fractures) the shale, releasing trapped deposits of oil and gas, which is then pumped to the surface, along with significant amounts of wastewater, including both the water used for fracking and any groundwater that has been released.
Natural gas is also 80 percent methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2. In fact, even if Maryland never allows fracking, the amount of natural gas infrastructure that is already underway in the United States would put the country over its emissions goals under the Paris Climate Agreement.