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February 2010

What's On Tap? The Halliburton Loophole

Norma It’s time to test the water, for Norma’s sake.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it hopes to begin a study this year on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies.

This research can’t begin soon enough in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and West Virginia, which has experienced a multiplication of natural gas drilling wells using hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking” is technique in which drilling companies pump millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and release natural gas into pipes.

I took a trip this fall up to Dimock, Pennsylvania, to interview several residents whose wells had been contaminated with methane by drilling rigs that now surround their rural town. One woman, Norma Fiorentino (pictured above), a retired nurse and widow, reported that the water well in her front yard blew up last year because of leaking methane. She said her tap water ran black and smelled of diesel fuel, and she’s been drinking bottled water since.

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Think, Baby, Think. Is Drilling Really Green?

Drill rig, beside barn Is natural gas environmentally virtuous because burning it creates less air pollution than coal?

Or is it greener to be skeptical about the recent surge in gas drilling in the Chesapeake region, because of its potential to create water pollution and contaminated drinking water wells?

It’s a complex question that is sparking hot debate between environmentalists. And it is an important discussion for our region, because of the hundreds of wells being dug in a formation of black rock called the Marcellus shale that lies under New York state, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and West Virginia.

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$13 Million More for Bay Program. But What About More Accountability?

Jackson Federal funding in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program may increase by $13 million next year. This is good news. But more than just money, this taxpayer is demanding more accountability –- to make sure my family's investments in the Bay result in real pollution reductions, not just  hot air.

Do you agree? Who is backing these checks for the Bay program, anyway?  You and me.

During testimony today before the Senate  Committee on Environment and Public Works, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that the Chesapeake Bay Program – a federally-led partnership with Bay  area states – will receive $63 million in the fiscal year starting on October 1 in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget.

This is an increase from about $50 million this year, which was also up from approximately $40 million the year before. Considering the even greater economic benefits that would flow from a restored Chesapeake Bay, Congress should support the President’s proposed increase – and invest even more in clean water.

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Pro-Developer Bill Seeks to Undermine Pollution Regulations

Kalbird8 Beware developers claiming they’re out to protect the little guy by undermining environmental protections. Paved farmland and a dirty Chesapeake Bay won’t help anyone.  But they will erode everyone’s quality of life, which will hurt our economy in the long run.

The most recent example is in Maryland. State Delegate Marvin E. Holmes Jr. of Prince George's County recently introduced legislation favored by the development industry, House Bill 1125, which would gut stormwater pollution control regulations passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly in 2007. 

The claim by developers trying to weaken these stormwater pollution control regulations is that they will raise costs for homebuilders, which could boost the prices of homes and discourage the creation of jobs in the construction industry.

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A Flood of Problems From Pennsylvania's Gas Drilling Rush

Floodeddrilling In Pennsylvania's rush to approve new wells for a booming natural gas industry, the state is  allowing drilling in areas that could cause environmental damage - including in floodplains.

This reckless practice means that wastewater and toxic chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process can be swept into rivers during floods.

This practice of allowing drilling in floodplains must stop, because it creates public health hazards.

Pictured above is a drilling site near a stream in northeastern Pennsylvania (Susquehanna County) that was flooded on January 26 after heavy rains. This photo, and the ones below, are from the website of the Susquehanna River Sentinel, which granted permission for them to be posted here.  

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Citizens Win Court Victory Over Big-Box Developers

Hebron A judge has ruled against a residential and commercial development project on Maryland’s Eastern shore that would have multiplied five-fold the population of a tiny town.

Pictured above is the outfall pipe of Hebron, Maryland's small sewage treatment plant into Rewastico Creek. The stream was threatened with increased waste from Waller Landing, a 1,500-home development with 450,000 square feet of retail.

The decision by Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Donald C. Davis means that the town will have to go back to the drawing board with plans to transform a farm field into stores, parking lots and homes.

Hebron, with its population of about 1,000, is like many Eastern Shore towns that in recent years have been challenged by large development projects.

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Rubbing Salt in the Earth's Wounds After a Snowstorm

Plow Back when the Romans defeated Carthage to end the Punic Wars, the victors not only killed and enslaved their foes. They also spread salt on their farm fields, so that their crops would not grow. 

So if even the Romans thought salt was the ultimate environmental insult, shouldn’t we be concerned today when we see trucks spreading tons of salt after snowstorms like the ones we just endured?

This fear of salt was behind an email that Bay Daily reader Jeff Benson wrote to me during the height of the storm:  “WHY ARE WE LETTING BALTIMORE CITY DUMP TONS OF CONTAMINATED SNOW INTO THE HARBOR?”

As it turns out, people who live next to the harbor or the Chesapeake Bay shouldn’t be worried about salt running into these waterways, because they’re already brackish -- a mixture of salty and fresh water. But folks who live inland, near freshwater streams and rivers, should try to minimize their use of salt, because adding excessive amounts of salt to these bodies of water can kill fish and the insect larvae that fish eat.

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White Mushrooms and the Hand of the Icebeast

White mushrooms in the streamI found these white mushrooms ballooning out of the Stony Run stream near my home. They're puffballs of water amid the slightly warmer water.

As the belt-deep snow continues to pile up around my home office -- even the view from my second floor bedroom window is half-blocked by mounds -- it's interesting to think that all of this majesty and weirdness will eventually melt and flow downstream into the Chesapeake Bay.

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Maryland Doubles Environmental Enforcement Actions

MDE_Graph The Maryland Department of the Environment has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to crack down on polluters.

But new numbers released yesterday show that the state agency deserves credit for continuously stepping up its enforcement actions over the last five years. 

Last year, MDE issued 2,901 enforcement actions –- a record number since the state started tracking the figure in 1997, and more than double the 1,395 enforcement actions in 2005.

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The Snow Fairy's Rampage

Snow daySnow day!

Here's the view outside my house in Baltimore after this weekend's assault and battery by the Winter Warlock.

Several of my neighbors had no heat or electricity, and had to sleep heaped up with their kids, dogs, coats, rugs and blankets to keep warm. Folks were sledding down the middle of the road on the hill near our home, with no fear of traffic.

How did you all survive?

My top five favorite snow headlines:


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