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November 2009

Reactions to Obama Bay Plan: "Feds Back Off..." and "Change? Ha ha ha."

Kalbird7 Reaction from the public and press to the Obama Administration’s proposed new Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan has been, well… underwhelming.

A Bay Daily reader named “JB” expressed disgust that EPA is giving Bay area states first crack at writing regulations to control runoff pollution from farms and development… when the states, of course, have had plenty of first cracks to tackle these problems over the last quarter century or more.

“Change?... Ha, ha, ha!” JB cackled (well, I didn’t actually hear him cackle, but that’s what his e-mail comment sounded like to my eyes). “Everything is left to other agencies to do, which (is) the problem we already have.”

This is perhaps a bit unfair, JB. The federal government’s new draft strategy (which you can read by clicking here) calls for EPA to initiate the creation of new rules to control farm and urban runoff …but only put them into force if the states don’t create effective pollution controls on their own. So there is a new federal hammer, of a sort: the threat of future federal regulation.

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Drilling Boom Heads Into Maryland

Drillrig News about gas drilling in a shale formation under the Chesapeake region keeps bubbling to the surface. To hear my public radio program on the drilling boom in Pennsylvania, click here.

Pictured at left is one of about 60 drilling sites that have popped up recently in Susquehanna County, Pa., and 650 across the commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) reported to Bay Daily that drilling in the so-called Marcellus Shale formation might now cross the border from Pennsylvania into Maryland, a state that has not seen a new natural gas well in about a decade.

Oklahoma-based Samson Resources has applied to the state agency for permits to drill four wells in Western Maryland, according to an email from Jay Apperson, deputy communications director at MDE.

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Offshore Wind Farms Blowing Our Way

Wind turbines The winds are blowing strong for alternative energy off the Atlantic coast.

Governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Jack Markell of Delaware today signed an agreement to encourage off-shore wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, according to a joint announcement. The executives penned a memorandum of understanding that that will help create strategies for transmitting electricity inland from off-shore wind farms and develop markets for this low-pollution source of electricity.

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Obama Proposal for Bay Cleanup Falls Short

Baysunset What a let-down.

Bay cleanup advocates had been eagerly anticipating the release today of the Obama Administration’s new draft strategy for restoring the Bay. I had hoped that it would be a strong example of new federal leadership.

Unfortunately, the proposal released during a teleconference today was disappointing because it lacks specific goals, deadlines, programs and strategies.

The vagueness of this new federal draft plan really underscores the need for Congress to pass a new law that would make the requirements for Bay cleanup clear and indisputable.

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Families Tell of Explosion, Drinking Water Contamination

Pennsylvania this week fined a Texas-based natural gas drilling company, Cabot Oil & Gas, $120,000 for causing underground methane leaks that contaminated the drinking water of 13 families in the northeastern part of the state, near Dimock, Pa.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered the firm to replace the water supplies of these homes. This video I made tells the stories of two families who had their water ruined.

Their accounts provide vivid examples of why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is fighting to protect streams and underground water supplies during the current drilling boom across Pennsylvania. About 650 wells have been drilled in the state over the last four years in the Marcellus Shale formation, and many more are planned.

Environmental Chief: Drilling Boom Must Be "Watch-Dogged"

John_Hanger The amount of natural gas in a black rock formation under Pennsylvania is so vast that it could supply all of America’s energy needs for 10 to 15 years, said John Hanger, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in an interview with Bay Daily.

The development of a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing to unlock the gas in the Marcellus Shale formation is a “game changer” for the United States, he said. The discovery could provide cheaper energy and help in the fight against global warming, Hanger said.

Drill rig workers, three But drilling is also environmentally invasive. In northeastern Pennsylvania, drilling has caused chemical spills, contamination of drinking water with methane, an explosion, and fish kill. These incidents in the Dimock area were reported in Monday’s Bay Daily.  The problems illustrate the need for Pennsylvania to become increasingly vigilant over the drilling boom, Hanger said.

“We are increasing oversight over this industry, because it is imperative that as this industry grows, oversight must accompany it,” the state environmental secretary said in a recent telephone interview conducted for public radio and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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Sprawl From New Highway Would Wipe Out 1,550 Acres of Forests. Meeting Tomorrow.

Sprawlbulldozers Despite claims that a proposed highway in Southern Maryland would not increase suburban sprawl, a review of public records shows that the local government has already granted preliminary approval to 3,261 building lots in the area around the highway.

Construction immediately surrounding the Cross County Connector in Charles County, Maryland, will wipe out at least 1,550 acres of forests, according to an analysis of state and local data and records by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  The replacement of all these trees (including those in the highway's path, shown below) with subdivisions (like the one being built in the photo above) could produce an additional 11,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution a year that would smother a valuable fish breeding ground, the Mattawoman Creek, and hurt the Chesapeake Bay.

Mattawomanforest Anyone who cares about protecting the Chesapeake region’s natural  landscape and water quality should turn out for a public meeting tomorrow night (Wednesday, November 4) at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus, 8730 Mitchell Road in LaPlata.  The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the college’s Business and Industry (BI), Room 113/113E.

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My Road Trip to Frackville, Heart of The Drilling Boom

FrackvilleI recently took a road trip to Frackville. What I saw could serve as a cautionary tale about the mixed blessing of discovering a vast natural gas reserve beneath the Mid-Atlantic region. On one hand, there's a lot of money in drilling and a fuel that's cleaner than coal. On the other hand, there's drinking water contamination, chemical spills, dead fish and a changed landscape.

Actually, my destination was only "Frackville" in a figurative sense. I drove north from Baltimore to a tiny town in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been transformed by a boom in natural gas drilling using a technique called hydraulic fracturing (nicknamed "fracking").  

Welcome to DimockIn reality, I kept on motoring up I-81 past the Frackville exit sign (not my real destination, but the name was irresistible) to the village that lies at the center of my tale: Dimock, Pennsylvania.  It's in a beautiful area of rolling hills and rocky forests, with farms and houses that date back more than a century. Four years ago, there were no natural gas wells in rural Susquehanna County, which surrounds the town.  But over the last year, drillers from Texas have installed 60 wells in the county. And that number is expected to more than triple over the next two years, according to the drilling company.  This surge makes Dimock a microcosm for Pennsylvania as a whole, where 650 gas wells have sprouted over the last four years.

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