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.

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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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