Anti-Fracking Fight Heats Up in Maryland

Baltimore’s march against the proposed Cove Point project was the largest environmental protest in the city’s history.

Bruce Vail

The protest was closely linked to the nationwide campaign against the much larger Keystone XL pipeline. (Courtesy of CCAN)

More than 500 pro­tes­tors marched in down­town Bal­ti­more yes­ter­day to oppose the expan­sion of nat­ur­al-gas drilling, pipeline expan­sions and export across the Mid-Atlantic region. The protest was close­ly linked to the nation­wide cam­paign against the much larg­er Key­stone XL pipeline, and grow­ing agi­ta­tion over the issue of cli­mate change globally. 

Resis­tance to cor­po­rate dom­i­na­tion of ener­gy pol­i­cy was the key theme of the Feb. 20 march. For Bal­ti­more pro­test­ers, the enti­ty exem­pli­fy­ing such greed at present is Domin­ion Resources Inc., a large Vir­ginia-based ener­gy con­glom­er­ate push­ing a plan to con­struct a gas export ter­mi­nal on Maryland’s Chesa­peake Bay shore­line. The pro­posed facil­i­ty, called Cove Point, is being met with increas­ing­ly loud oppo­si­tion from envi­ron­men­tal groups like the Sier­ra Club and Chesa­peake Cli­mate Action Net­work (CCAN), which were among the orga­niz­ers of the ral­ly. The ral­ly and march were timed to coin­cide with a hear­ing by the Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, which will deter­mine whether the plan is in the pub­lic inter­est” and there­fore mer­its approval. Accord­ing to orga­niz­ers, the ral­ly and march was the largest ever envi­ron­men­tal protest in the city.

Dominion Energy's proposed project is inextricably linked to increased hydraulic fracturing, says the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, because the company is betting on cheap, plentiful fracked gas in order to make the large-scale export of liquefied natural gas profitable.

This is where Mary­land makes its cli­mate change stand,” pro­claimed State Del­e­gate Heather Mizeur (D), an elect­ed leg­is­la­tor run­ning for gov­er­nor in Maryland’s 2014 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty pri­ma­ry. Mizeur is the first state par­ty can­di­date to pub­licly oppose Cove Point, CCAN founder Mike Tid­well tells In These Times, and her appear­ance at the ral­ly was an impor­tant step for­ward in efforts for orga­niz­ers hop­ing to make the issue a flash­point in this year’s elections.

CCAN has been busy recruit­ing allies since it kicked off its anti-Cove Point cam­paign late last year, and the results were evi­dent at the ral­ly. Local groups opposed to hydraulic frac­tur­ing, the gas-drilling tech­nique also known as frack­ing,” in the near­by states of Penn­syl­va­nia, Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia, New Jer­sey, and New York attend­ed, as did region­al stu­dent groups and nation­al cli­mate change orga­ni­za­tions such as 350​.org and Food & Water Watch. Dominion’s plan is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to increased hydraulic frac­tur­ing, CCAN says, because the com­pa­ny is bet­ting on cheap, plen­ti­ful fracked gas in order to make the large-scale export of liq­ue­fied nat­ur­al gas prof­itable. More frack­ing and increased burn­ing of nat­ur­al gas to pro­duce elec­tric­i­ty are major con­trib­u­tors to cli­mate change, CCAN holds, and should be resist­ed as a mat­ter of good glob­al ener­gy pol­i­cy. CCAN also charges that nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion — and the trans­port pro­ce­dures nec­es­sary to export — releas­es addi­tion­al amounts of methane out­side the burn­ing process, there­by inten­si­fy­ing the effects on cli­mate change.

It’s a straight line” from frack­ing wells to the export ter­mi­nal at Cove Point to increased glob­al warm­ing, agrees Mizeur. Her ini­tial inter­est in the sub­ject was sparked by demands three years ago by west­ern Mary­land res­i­dents for a mora­to­ri­um on frack­ing with­in the state, she told In These Times, and since then she has grown increas­ing­ly con­vinced that state politi­cians need to be more active on cli­mate change issues.

It was shock­ing to me that peo­ple were unaware,” of the con­nec­tion between frack­ing, Cove Point and cli­mate change, adds Ches­na Man­dl, a col­lege stu­dent par­tic­i­pat­ing in the march and ral­ly. Man­dl is part of a stu­dent envi­ron­men­tal activist net­work that includes Gouch­er Col­lege (where Man­dl is a stu­dent) and sev­er­al oth­er area uni­ver­si­ties that have joined the oppo­si­tion to Cove Point. There is a push to be more green,” at all of these local col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, she says, and oppo­si­tion to Cove Point is a nat­ur­al out­growth of that.

CCAN’s efforts to oppose Cove Point will accel­er­ate in the near future, Tid­well says. Domin­ion hopes the state Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion will make an ear­ly deci­sion approv­ing Cove Point, while oppo­nents are ded­i­cat­ed to slow­ing things down by demand­ing a full envi­ron­men­tal impact study. A legal team from Sier­ra Club is also purs­ing a par­al­lel strat­e­gy to slow down the offi­cial approval process through a legal chal­lenge, while grass­roots sup­port builds to stop it alto­geth­er, he says.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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