Fracking's Future in Maryland: Will Health Risks Outweigh Benefits? | WYPR

Fracking's Future in Maryland: Will Health Risks Outweigh Benefits?

Sep 12, 2016

Today, a look at the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It’s a method of getting at natural gas that involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground at high pressures to fracture the underlying rock and release the gas.

Fracking has expanded rapidly across the US in the past decade, mostly in western states. There are also thousands of fracking operations in the East, especially in the area known as the Marcellus Shale… a gas-rich rock formation that runs beneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland’s two western-most counties.

A Maryland commission-- chaired by Dr. David Vanko, dean of the Fisher School of Science and Marthematics at Towson Universty -- was created in 2011 to study the environmental and health impacts of fracking, as well as its potential economic benefits. Four years and 34 public hearings later, that commission recommended that fracking be allowed to proceed under strict regulations.  But the General Assembly intervened and imposed a two-year moratorium on fracking that expires in October 2017.  

While Maryland’s Department of the Environment may see fracking as a reasonably safe enterprise, public doubts have been fueled by a steady stream of troubling scientific research.  Dr. Brian Schwartz, a professor in the Johns Hopkins-Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health, has co-authored a series of four papers over the past year that suggest fracking operations could be the culprit in a wide range of health problems.  Dr. Schwartz joins Maryland Morning co-host Nathan Sterner in the studio to discuss those findings.  Joining the conversation by phone is State Senator Bobby Zirkin, who first proposed a permanent ban on fracking back in 2014, and plans to do so again in Annapolis next year.