Letter to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

 

The Honorable Larry Hogan

Governor of Maryland

Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor Hogan,

As you consider signing the Maryland fracking moratorium bill (HB 449/SB409), Concerned Health Professionals of Maryland would like to bring to your attention two new peer-reviewed studies published in the past week. These studies, detailed below, add to the weight of the peer-reviewed evidence – now more than 450 studies, at least 75 percent of which have come out since January 2013 – indicating significant dangers, health impacts, and remaining uncertainties.  Maryland's prior study of fracking, overseen by former Governor O'Malley, suffers from significant shortcomings as it does not incorporate a great deal of the recently-released studies, which provide much of the most important evidence to date. They underscore the public health imperative of pausing before deciding whether to allow this practice of natural gas extraction to occur in our state.

Concerned Health Professionals of Maryland is a coalition of clinicians, researchers, and other health professionals who are concerned about the potential health effects of unconventional natural gas development and production (“fracking”) in Maryland. We have been following the science related to fracking and public health very closely. The following two recent studies serve to highlight the dangers and uncertainties surrounding the health impacts of fracking. 

As the Baltimore Sun reported last week, a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment by University of Maryland at College Park researchers found that the atmospheric levels of ethane detected at monitoring stations in Baltimore rose significantly between 2010 and 2013, correlated with an increase in drilling and fracking the Marcellus shale in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Ethane levels similarly increased in Washington DC, which is also downwind from the gas development in the region.  Ethane levels did not increase in the control area of Atlanta, Georgia, where fracking is not taking place in neighboring states.

The data from this study suggest operational atmospheric pollution, measured ethane, is not limited to the local drilling operations. These findings are quite disconcerting because even those communities where fracking is not occurring may face air pollution and negative health impacts. 

As the study authors state, "the limited longitudinal data of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing inhibits the ability of municipalities to completely understand the detrimental effects from the drilling operations to its populations.”

These findings emphasize the need to conduct long-term epidemiological studies. They also highlight the failure of the oil and gas industry, and state and federal regulators, to evaluate properly the effects of their operations on the local and regional populations. The detection of ethane so far downwind of the operations also indicates that methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, is present, as ethane is the second-most prevalent substance in natural gas. The presence of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) indicate incomplete combustion at the source, indicating inefficiency in the unconventional natural gas extraction process and demonstrating the need for stricter controls.  Furthermore, the presence of VOCs can increase ozone production and exceed current environmental standards. According to researchers, Marcellus Shale activities would, on average, account for 12% of the total NOx and VOC emissions and 14% of the total particulate matter (PM) in the region in 2020. NOx and VOC pollution correlates with increased mortality and morbidity and would complicate Maryland’s attainment of federal PM and ozone standards.

The other significant study published in the past week, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights the potential for drinking water contamination by shale gas development. Researchers from Penn State University tested water from three wells at homes near drilling and fracking sites in Bradford County, Pennsylvania and found 2-Butoxyethanol or 2BE, a common drilling chemical. In animal studies, this chemical is linked to tumors. The study found that hydrocarbons and injected drilling and fracking chemicals traveled about a mile through a connected network of pathways into an aquifer people use for drinking water, and the chemicals were still present 2.5 years later, when the researchers took their samples.

This chemical was not found in well water tested farther away from drilling sites. The researchers note that they would have possibly been able to “fingerprint” the chemical and compare it to the specific chemicals used at the fracking sites near the contaminated wells, except that drilling companies would not give them access to samples of drilling, wastewater pits, or other fluid samples. This lack of access hampers the ability of researchers to conduct studies on potential air and water contamination related to this industry.

These studies underscore the fact that we are only beginning to get the full picture of the risks and adverse impacts of drilling and fracking, but what we know is alarming for public health. Given the lack of any evidence indicating that fracking can be done safely – and a wealth of evidence to the contrary, we call on you to heed the science and act to safeguard the health of Marylanders by signing the moratorium on fracking.

Sincerely,

Steering Committee, Concerned Health Professionals of Maryland:

Katie Huffling, MS, RN, CNM, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments 

Rebecca Rehr, MPH, Maryland Environmental Health Network

Ann Bristow, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor, Frostburg State University

Luke Michaelson, PhD, RN

Cc: Van T. Mitchell, Secretary, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene