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Anti-Fracking Protesters Await General Assembly on Opening Day

Power Company Rep: 'This is a game-changing environment and the abundant supply of natural gas is bringing manufacturing back to our county.'

During a protest outside the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, MD on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, Gina Angiola, a retired physician from Olney, voices concerns over fracking in Montgomery County.  Photo: Patrick Farrell | Capital News Service
During a protest outside the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, MD on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, Gina Angiola, a retired physician from Olney, voices concerns over fracking in Montgomery County. Photo: Patrick Farrell | Capital News Service

By Lyle Kendrick | Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - A coalition of protesters stuffed papers into passing legislators’ hands calling for an extension of a statewide fracking moratorium as the General Assembly began its opening day Wednesday.

More than 75 protesters and members of environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, met in front of the State House for the rally.

The coalition of protesters called for a bill that would mandate an 18-month review period before the General Assembly could allow any drilling permits, after a pending study concludes.

During 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley issued an executive order preventing the Maryland Department of the Environment from approving drilling permits until the end of a scientific study looking at fracking. The study is planned to be finalized later this year.  

“Whatever the answers are, we need the science to dictate this,” said Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Takoma Park, who spoke at the rally.

Many of the protestors and rally speakers voiced concerns with potential gas extraction in the Western Maryland portion of the Marcellus Shale basin and the part of the Taylorsville basin that extends under part of Southern Maryland, including Prince George’s County.

Joelle Biele, a writer from Ellicott City, said she attended the rally because she wants the legislature to understand the impact of fracking on drinking water.

According to a Duke University study, homes around fracking wells in Pennsylvania and New York had high methane concentrations.

Gina Angiola, a retired physician from Olney who spoke at the event, said leakages are inevitable and the public does not even know what chemicals are being used for gas extraction.

“We really have a massive health experiment going on,” she said.

But some in the natural gas industry said gas extracted from shale is a cleaner option than coal and would be a major job provider for the state.

Natural gas creates half the carbon output as coal, said Jim Norvelle, the director of communications at Dominion Energy, a unit of Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based power company.

Dominion’s planned Cove Point facility in Lusby would export gas from the Marcellus Shale basin, particularly from Pennsylvania and Ohio, to Asian countries like Japan and India.

“This is a game-changing environment and the abundant supply of natural gas is bringing manufacturing back to our county,” Norvelle said. “It’s [bringing] jobs back to our country.”

While protesters handed out pamphlets outside the State House against fracking, there were stacks of papers outside the chamber rooms supporting exporting natural gas. The pamphlets included the names of some members of the North Americas Building Trades Unions.

Some protesters at the rally said they do not want the export facility.

Paul Christensen, an electrical engineer from Tracy’s Landing, said he thinks the facility would bring more traffic and polluters to the Chesapeake Bay.

Mizeur said she hopes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will do an environmental impact study on the development and the Public Service Commission asks the appropriate questions as they go through the permit process.

Many protesters said they want Marylanders to consider the long-term implications of projects like Cove Point.

“We have to make a transition to a clean energy future,” said Pat Delaquil, an energy systems analyst from Annapolis.

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