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April 2010

Drilling Cash Like "Crack Cocaine"

Drilling An alarm bell is ringing about the destruction of state forests by natural gas drilling companies, and we should all pay attention. A flash of cash from drilling is not worth the rape of wildlife areas that we have a moral obligation to protect for future generations.

That warning was issued recently by a top Pennsylvania official with a sworn duty to look out for public forestland.

Quigley John Quigley, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (pictured at right), gave a speech over the weekend at Bucknell University, during which he warned that the state has become overly dependent on money it receives by allowing drilling companies to dig wells in state forests.

Cash from drilling in the gas-rich Marcellus shale region “has become the crack cocaine of state government,” Quigley said, according to a report in the (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) Patriot-News. Drilling in state forests “has been used to balance the state budget two years in a row.”

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The True Meaning of Earth Day

Nelson Thursday is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Earth Day was founded by Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (left) to channel the anger of the anti-war movement into fighting pollution and protecting our planet. It was never intended to become the feel-good, tree-planting, Hallmark holiday that it has become today.

Much has been achieved in the environmental arena over the last four decades -- including improved air quality, upgrades to many sewage treatment plants, the banning of DDT, and rebound of some key species including the bald eagle.

But large and vexing problems remain.  The most problematic of them is the attitude of the American public, as articulated recently in The Wall Street Journal by the first EPA Administrator, William Ruckelshaus.

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Spring Is Perfect Time to Explore the Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has long encouraged its staff, members, and friends to get outside and enjoy the resource – the Chesapeake Bay.  After all, it is a national treasure right here in our back yard, and you really cannot experience it vicariously; the Bay begs to be seen, heard, touched, and explored in the flesh.

Personally, I don’t need to be encouraged to get out on the Bay. One of my favorite things to do is throw the kayak on the car and find a Bay river or creek to explore.  And one of the neatest places to go for   Islemap my money (actually, it doesn’t cost a dime) is Jamestown Island, just off the north bank of the James River near Williamsburg in James City County, Va.

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Pennsylvania Penalizes Drilling Company for Water Contamination

To punish a natural gas drilling company for contaminating the drinking water wells of 14 homes in Dimock, Pennyslvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection today imposed $240,000 in fines on Cabot Oil & Gas of Texas and is suspending all new drilling applications by the company across the state, according to a news release from the state agency

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"Monster" Invasive Species Helped Return of Native Bay Grasses

Beneath the waves of the Chesapeake Bay, an emerald forest once flourished. Underwater grasses swayed in rippling sunlight. Long ribbons of eelgrass released so much oxygen the water fizzed with bubbles. Feathery jungles were nurseries for crabs and fish.

Grassbed But water pollution smothered these aquatic gardens. By the 1970s, the amount of Bay grasses had fallen from about 200,000 acres to less than a fifth of that. More than just a canary in the coal mine of the Bay’s troubles, the death of the grasses stripped away a natural network of clean water machines.

Recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program released a report with good news about the both the Bay’s grasses and blue crabs.  The rise in crab populations was discussed at length in this blog and elsewhere yesterday.  The increase in grasses has been less noticed, but is also important.  Aerial surveys found about 9,000 more acres of aquatic vegetation in the Bay last year than the year before.  That was a 7 percent increase in one year, which is part of a more than doubling over the last quarter century.

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60 Percent Jump in Bay's Blue Crabs

Scientific surveys released yesterday showed a 60 percent rise in populations of the Chesapeake Bay's blue crabs over the last year. The beautiful swimmers had declined to record lows just three years ago. Since then, crab populations have more than doubled, and now they're in numbers not seen in nearly two decades. Here is coverage of the issue in the (Norfolk) Virginian Pilot, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Richmond Times Dispatch. Here is more information from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.


Rebound of Blue Crabs Pinches Anti-Government Politics

Bluecrab I'd like to impose a moratorium on anti-regulatory rhetoric about the Chesapeake Bay. Enough with the claim that the heavy hand of government is breaking the back of the little guy.  State regulation has proven enormously successful in helping to bring back two of the Bay's iconic species: blue crabs and rockfish. And this, in turn, is helping the same watermen who fought so bitterly against the regulation in the first place.

The big news this morning was that blue crab populations, as determined by a scientific survey, were 60 percent higher this winter than last winter. Why?  The governors of Maryland and Virginia went out on a limb, endured a boatload of criticism, and imposed tough restrictions on catching female crabs in 2008.  The 60 percent jump this winter followed a 43 percent rise in 2009, compared to 2008.

All told, there were an estimated 658 million blue crabs in the Bay this winter – the highest figure in 17 years, according to an announcement that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made this morning at the waterfront on Kent Island.

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Oyster Sanctuary Proposal Saved in General Assembly's Final Day

Oystersonboat The oysters dodged a bullet.

Working late into the night in its final day of the session, the Maryland House of Delegates wisely decided not to approve a bill that would have delayed for at least the year the creation of oyster sanctuaries.

This is good news, because it allows Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration to proceed with its proposal to protect 9,000 acres of oyster reefs with no-harvesting zones, or about 25 percent of the remaining healthy reefs.

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Oyster Sanctuaries Are Key to the Chesapeake Bay's Future

It’s down to the wire in the final hours of the Maryland General Assembly session for some key environmental issues, especially the creation of oyster sanctuaries.

My message to lawmakers: Please do not forget the Chesapeake Bay's keystone species, Crassostrea virginia, the Eastern oyster.

Do not fall for a proposal by some legislators to delay for a year or more the governor’s plan to protect about 9,000 acres (or about 25 percent) of the Bay’s remaining oyster reefs with no-harvesting sanctuaries.

The creation of these sanctuaries is vitally important for the restoration of the Chesapeake’s native oysters. Because of overharvesting, disease and pollution, oyster harvests have fallen to less than 1 percent of their historic highs. 

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Bay Game May Hold Key to Success

Can we have a healthy environment and healthy economy at the same time? Can we save the Bay and keep such folks as watermen and developers in business? How do you strike a balance between the needs of commerce and the needs of the Chesapeake Bay? Can such a balance even exist?

These are questions that so often seem to stump elected officials and policymakers. Yesterday, they were stumping some 120 college students and citizens who gathered at the University of Virginia to “play” U.Va.’s Chesapeake Bay Game in the library of the Charlottesville university.

The game, developed by U.Va. professors as a teaching tool, is actually a computer simulation exercise that allows players to assume the role of various Bay stakeholders – farmers, watermen, developers, environmental planners, and regulators – and make decisions based upon what they think is best for BayGame3  their own pocketbooks, families, and communities. Computers quickly translate those decisions into an impact on the Bay – how much more or less pollution would be added to the Bay and how much larger or smaller the Bay’s annual “dead zone” of oxygen-starved water would become – as well how those decisions would impact the region’s economy and quality of life.

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