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Engage Mountain Maryland Targets Edwards Amendments

March 14th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

An anit-fracking group, Engage Mountain Maryland, has issued a statement regarding amendments Senator George Edwards recently submitted to the Hydraulic Fracking Liability Act.  The text follows:

"Western Maryland residents responded swiftly when Senator George Edwards submitted two amendments to Senate Bill 361 Hydraulic Fracking Liability Act. This bill was recently passed out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee chaired by Senator Bobby Zirkin. Looking for protective measures on fracking, representatives from Engage Mountain Maryland, EMM, testified in support of the bill along with the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club. The bill establishes liability for hydraulic fracturing activities that cause injury, death, or loss of property. The bill also specifies that chemicals used in the drilling process be discoverable. Currently the chemicals are described as “trade secrets” and concealed from the public". 

"The amendments Senator Edwards is proposing would severely weaken the chemical disclosure language and reduce liability limits by half. This has citizens of Western Maryland who support the legislation, outraged. EMM launched an email campaign to legislators requesting they support the bill as it came out of committee and that they reject any amendments such as the two proposed by Sen. Edwards. Leading up to this onslaught of emails, EMM organized and gathered over 300 signatures from Western Maryland to show the breadth of support behind SB361. In response to the fevered objections to the amendments, a Senate vote will be held over until March 15 to allow time for the public to submit further comments. “The bill’s fate is uncertain,” says Mark Stutzman, President, and Founding Member of EMM. “It depends on how legislators view the importance of liability. If a company inflicts harm, should they, or should they not be held liable? I say yes, but some legislators feel industry should be held to a lesser standard.” 

"Apparently, Sen. Edwards is one of those people. By stripping out the chemical disclosure aspect of the bill, he removes an ability to link contaminated water with fracking chemistry. If fracking chemicals cannot be identified, they cannot be linked to contaminants found in a water supply. Nondisclosure from fracking operations conveniently removes them as suspect. "If a drilling company contaminates your water,” explained Kevin Faley, EMM Founding Member, "what public good is served by a law that prevents you from finding out the nature of the contamination?”

"Reducing the liability coverage by half for fracking related injury, death, or loss of property also has many concerned. "It is clear to me. The drive to lessen the amount of insurance is to benefit the corporations, it is surely not aimed toward protecting the public,” says Elliott Perfetti, Spokesperson and EMM Founding Member. There is concern not only over claims of water contamination but events that could be considered catastrophic like the massive gas leak that is unfolding in Aliso Canyon, CA. Having liability coverage to mitigate large scale events is weighing heavily on people’s minds."

"Although I do not wish to allow hydraulic fracturing to take place in Maryland, I realize the importance of having strong laws and regulations in place should fracking come," Dawn Beitzel, fifth generation Garrett County resident and EMM Founding Member explains. "Everyone should get behind SB 361 to protect Maryland from becoming another Dimock, PA, or worse. Gas & Oil says that fracking is safe, so there is no reason for them to shy away from taking responsibility.” This sentiment was also shared during testimony in front of the Judicial Proceedings Committee by Senator Jamie Raskin. He described the bill as suitable for proponents of fracking as well. Since industry representatives like Drew Cobbs, President of the Maryland Petroleum Council, are confident in the process of fracking, drilling companies shouldn’t see the bill as a problem. EMM even encourages landowners who have entered a lease with fracking firms to support the bill. “Landowners don’t often realize when they enter a lease, they are signing their rights away, “ Eric Robison, EMM Founding Member, says. “They can also be considered a partner with the gas company so if anything goes wrong, they could be liable even though they are not participating in drilling activities.”

"As the bill awaits a vote just days away, it is now getting lots of attention. SB361 is "the" fracking legislation for the 2016 session while the 2 year moratorium on fracking is still in place. A similar bill was introduced last year and described as a "de facto ban" on fracking by industry representative Drew Cobbs. With a reduction in liability terms from 21 years as recommended in 2015, to 6 years in the 2016 bill, it’s no longer being viewed as that. The bill outlines a fracking company maintain liability for a 6 year term following the approved capping of a well. This is a big compromise to those who worry about the long-term failures of fracking wells. EMM members recognize the compromise but still recommend liability law on what they are certain is a hazardous and dangerous venture for Western Maryland. "Most of us in Western Maryland do not want fracking, but we have to fight for every protection we can get because our elected officials aren't listening and don't seem to care," stated Judy Carbone, EMM Founding Member. "We can't count on them to look out for the common interest.”  EMM recently conducted a survey taken at a community event related to fracking that showed 84% surveyed don't want fracking in their community and 88% don't feel that their elected officials speak for them on the issue. "And then Senator Edwards goes and submits this amendment to weaken this bill that protects the very people he serves,” Carbone continues." I just don't understand!” 

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