Governor Larry Hogan announces support for frack ban in Maryland with what might be the strongest anti-fracking statement a Republican governor has ever made

This might be the strongest anti-fracking statement a Republican governor has ever made by Emily Atkin, March 17, 2017, New Republic
This might be the strongest anti-fracking statement a Republican governor has ever made. Democratic lawmakers in Maryland have long been pushing legislation that would issue a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial practice which entails injecting water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock and release oil and gas.

In a surprise move on Friday afternoon, Maryland’s GOP Governor Larry Hogan announced his “full support” for that legislation, saying that after looking at the science, he concluded that “the possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits.”

This legislation, I believe, is an important initiative to safeguard our environment, and I urge members of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle in both houses to come together and finally put this issue to rest once and for all. Protecting our clean water supply and our natural resources is pretty important to Marylanders, and we simply cannot allow the door to be opened to fracking in our state.

Hogan’s move came as a surprise to fracking opponents, about a dozen of whom were arrested yesterday while protesting fracking outside the state Capitol. A two-year temporary ban on fracking in Maryland is going to expire later this year, and until Friday, supporters and opponents weren’t sure where Hogan stood. Hogan allowed that temporary ban to become law in 2015, but only because he refused to either sign or veto it.

Now, Hogan is joining a small club of what was, until today, exclusively Democratic governors who don’t support the practice. In 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in the state, after state researchers concluded a five-year study on the potential environmental, economic, and public health risks. That study didn’t definitively prove adverse health effects, but it also didn’t disprove them—which was enough to give the state health commissioner “reason to pause.”

Evidently, Hogan also has reason to pause.

On Friday, he said even strict environmental regulations on the practice wouldn’t be enough.

“The choice to me is clear,” he said. “Either you support a ban on fracking, or you are for fracking.” [Emphasis added]

VIDEO AT LINK Hogan announces support for fracking ban in Maryland by Pamela Wood and Michael Dresser, Erin Cox and Ian Duncan contributed, March 17, 2017, The Baltimore Sun

… The Republican governor said passing legislation to prohibit fracking was “an important initiative to safeguard our environment.

“I urge members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to come together and finally put this issue to rest,” Hogan said during a State House news conference.

Some Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly and environmental advocates have pushed for years to ban fracking.

… The House of Delegates approved a bill last week that would ban the practice and a companion bill is expected to move forward in the state Senate.

Environmentalists say Maryland would become the first state with natural gas that could be fracked from underground shale to pass a law banning the practice. New York, which also has shale gas, banned the practice by executive order. Vermont passed a law to ban fracking, but has no gas that could be fracked.

“This would be the most nationally significant environmental bill Maryland has ever passed,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Thomas Meyer, a Maryland organizer for the national group Food and Water Watch, said Hogan’s announcement should send a message to politicians in other states that banning fracking is a smart decision.

“It says to Republicans: This is the direction we need to be going in,” Meyer said. “More importantly, it says to Democrats:

You can’t call yourself a progressive on climate issues if you’re supporting fracking.”

… Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, an outspoken opponent of the fracking ban, said in a Facebook post that he was disappointed by Hogan’s announcement. Beitzel, a Garrett County Republican, did not respond to a request for comment.

“While campaigning for Governor, he implied to members of the Western Maryland Delegation he supports responsible natural gas development,” Beitzel wrote of Hogan. “We were told that the ‘war on Western Maryland was over.’ It appears that the Governor has capitulated to the environmental community.”

The oil and gas industry also panned the governor’s announcement. Maryland Petroleum Institute director Drew Cobbs said Hogan is making a poor decision for political reasons.

“Maryland families and opportunities for job creation have lost out to the whims of a vocal minority — inconsistent with the governor’s vision to create well-paying jobs in Maryland,” Cobb said in a statement.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a sponsor of the fracking ban, joined Hogan at his announcement.

“There is simply no regulatory way to protect our citizens from the dangers of this technology,” said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat. “This is the right policy for the citizens of our state.”

Zirkin said he’s been lobbying the governor to ban fracking since approaching him at a Baltimore Ravens football game more than a year ago.

“I was working him over a Bud Light,” Zirkin said. “And I’ve been working him ever since.”

Not invited to the news conference was the ban’s House sponsor, Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo.

“I’m happy to hear the governor has managed to see the light,” the Montgomery County Democrat said. He said he was “surprised that nobody bothered to contact me.”

A moratorium on fracking is due to expire later this year, and Hogan had proposed what he called “platinum” regulations to govern the practice. As recently as last week, Hogan’s environment secretary, Ben Grumbles, touted those proposed regulations as “the most protective and comprehensive in the country.”

Hogan said Friday that the regulations would have made it “virtually impossible” to engage in fracking, and he chided lawmakers for delaying their implementation.

When Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller suggested a long-term moratorium followed by a non-binding voter referendum, the governor said he decided to act. He said he “decided that we must take the next step, and move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking.”

Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said he suggested a referendum to hear the opinions of residents in Garrett and Allegany counties, which have part of the Marcellus Shale formation where fracking is possible.

“I am not for fracking, never have been for fracking, never will be for fracking,” Miller said.

“The advocates for fracking have claimed that the people of Western Maryland are for fracking, and I believed it was important to let those residents’ opinions be heard,” he said.

Hogan’s support for the ban eliminates the need for fracking opponents to count votes in the Senate, where they were trying to get a veto-proof majority of senators to support the bill. Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the Senate’s environment committee, had previously said she wouldn’t let the bill out of her committee unless there were 29 votes in the 47-member Senate — enough to override a veto.

But Conway said Friday she’d already made up her mind to allow the bill to advance to the full Senate.

“I have never said I was holding the bill, but that was the perception,” she said.

Conway had sponsored a bill that would have set a long-term moratorium on fracking. She said she opposes the drilling practice.

“Do I think they should frack in Maryland? No, I don’t,” she said.

Hogan’s announcement was welcome news for former delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur. The Democrat started pushing for a fracking ban in 2011 and continued even after she was no longer in office.

Mizeur spoke this month at an Annapolis rally for a ban. She was tipped off Friday that Hogan would make the announcement but said, “I didn’t actually believe it until I saw it.”

“I never doubted once that this day would arrive,” Mizeur said. “I just didn’t think we’d have Larry Hogan standing next to us — a change of heart on the most meaningful of issues.” [Emphasis added]

Pro-fracking Md. lawmaker criticized for potential personal financial stake in drilling by Josh Hicks, March 11, 2017, The Washington Post

A Maryland lawmaker who is a leading proponent of hydraulic fracturing could profit from the controversial gas-extraction process if the state decides to permit it, because he owns land and mineral rights in Garrett County.

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Garrett) has said little publicly about the possibility that he could make money off gas royalties if the legislature allows a moratorium on fracking to expire in October. In interviews, however, he acknowledged his financial stake in the matter, even as he repeated that his efforts to support fracking in Western Maryland stem from a desire to protect the rights of property owners in the region.

Fracking opponents say Beitzel has a conflict of interest that should disqualify him from deliberations over whether to allow fracking and under what conditions. “It is another example of the political elite using the power of government to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer,” anti-fracking activist and Garrett County resident Kenny Braitman said.

[An excellent example why citizens must stop asking for frac moratoriums!] Beitzel staunchly opposes the ban, but he has been amenable to the moratorium as a way to keep the possibility of fracking alive in Maryland. In the House of Delegates on Friday, he said that prohibiting the gas-extraction method would “absolutely take away property rights from the people who own them.”

After consulting with the legislature’s ethics adviser, Beitzel has filed an ethics disclaimer form saying he owns land in the area where fracking would potentially occur. He said he saw no need to say on the forms that he owned gas rights for some of the land.

Beitzel, who has proposed legislation to compensate landowners if fracking is banned permanently, says his position on the industry is in line with that of most of his constituents, noting that he twice won reelection as a supporter of the practice.

“I think I represented the majority of the people that voted for me,” he said. “It’s something I represented to the public, and it’s something I intend to hold to.”

Both parcels sit above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, which the fracking industry wants to access in Maryland, to the dismay of environmentalists and health advocates who say the practice is dangerous. A gas company owns most of the underground mineral rights for the property Beitzel bought in 2007, but he owns the rights for the 99-acre parcel.

Beitzel placed the 86-acre site in the state’s Rural Legacy preservation program and placed the 99-acre parcel in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, each time receiving a payment equal to the property’s development value in exchange for promising not to use it for industrial purposes. He often cites those agreements when asked whether he could profit from fracking if the drilling method is allowed in the state.

“I can only lease that land for agricultural purposes and other uses that are not restricted by the conservation easement,” he explained last month.

But Beitzel could make money off gas royalties for the 99-acre parcel by allowing horizontal drilling from a neighboring property, a practice that has become more common as the industry has matured.

Beitzel introduced a bill in 2009 to allow drilling on land in state conservation programs, but it was rejected. The previous year, he lobbied the board of the agricultural foundation to allow surface drilling on lands in its program, according to the foundation’s executive director and meeting records. The foundation ultimately decided to permit horizontal drilling below such properties on a case-by-case basis, provided the drilling did not disturb the surface.

Beitzel’s contract with Rural Legacy has drawn scrutiny from Braitman and other anti-fracking activists because of a clause saying Beitzel must use his “best efforts to encourage” the owner of the property’s gas rights “to minimize the impact to the surface of the property and, to the extent possible, conduct any mineral extraction by accessing the sub-surface of the property laterally from adjacent property rather than from the surface of the property.”

Critics of the lawmaker, including Garrett County resident Michael Bell, say it is a loophole that could be exploited. But a state Department of Natural Resources spokesman says the clause was used for properties accepted into the program when the landowner did not also own the gas rights.

Beitzel also owns 73 acres near Deep Creek Lake, along with the gas rights for that property. The state proposed fracking regulations last year that would prohibit surface drilling in the Deep Creek watershed, but those guidelines would not bar horizontal drilling below the protected area, meaning Beitzel could still benefit if the state allows hydraulic fracturing.

The lawmaker said he is unlikely to profit from gas beneath that parcel because companies would have to drill horizontally from about three miles away, outside the watershed. But drilling technology is constantly evolving, and some companies have already drilled horizontally for upward of three miles.

In 2011, Bell wrote to Beitzel, saying the lawmaker should not participate in gas-extraction deliberations because the land he owned created a conflict of interest. Beitzel sent a letter to the legislature’s ethics counsel at the time, William G. Somerville, asking for advice on whether he should recuse himself.

Somerville replied in writing that Beitzel’s interest in leasing land for gas exploration “creates the presumption of a conflict of interest with regard to any legislative action” related to fracking, which he said meant the lawmaker could file a disclaimer of conflict form. The letter said Beitzel did not need to recuse himself, because so many of his constituents had similar gas and land interests.

The next day, Beitzel updated a disclosure form he had filed with the legislature’s joint ethics committee in 2007, writing that the appearance or presumption of a conflict of interest might exist with regard to legislative matters on gas extraction. In explaining his reasoning, he stated: “I am a landowner in Garrett County.”

Deadra W. Daly, the legislature’s current ethics counsel, does not comment on advice she gives to individual lawmakers. But Beitzel said he checks with Daly each year to make sure he is following the rules.

“It was clear as day that the reason I took that action [filing the form] was to divulge the fact that I own land above Marcellus Shale, and I could derive some benefit from it,” he said. “I did everything I thought I was supposed to do.”

In interviews last month, Beitzel dismissed the idea that he could make money from fracking, noting that the land he owns is protected from industrial activity. “Contrary to what has been alleged by some, my position on this issue is not motivated by greed to enrich myself,” he said.

But asked last week whether he could potentially make money from horizontal drilling on his 99-acre parcel, he acknowledged that he could.

“In America, people who own land often own the mineral rights for their land,” Beitzel said. “And I don’t think it should be taken away without compensation.” [But when their water is contaminated by frac’ing, families sickened from the frac fumes and bathing in secret toxic brew, or they blow up, landing in hospital when their water ignites, no compensation is ever to be given unless they shut up and gag? Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2017 03 10: Maryland House votes (97-40) to ban fracking by veto-proof margin

2013 12 20: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says It’s Unconstitutional For Gas Companies To Frack Wherever They Want; Act 13, Gas Industry Takeover Law thrown out by State’s Highest Court

“By any responsible account,” Chief Justice Castille wrote, “the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and the future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” ]

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.