MaryPIRG, officials join campaign against fracking

One side of a statewide standoff between advancing business interests and preserving the environment made its way to McKeldin Mall this weekend as MaryPIRG kicked off its anti-fracking campaign.

The university’s public interest lobbying group held its first event of the semester Saturday as part of the Global Frackdown, a worldwide effort to spread awareness about the practice, which involves drilling with highly pressurized chemicals to release petroleum, natural gas and other substances from rock formations. While some officials and business owners say the state would benefit economically from investing in the form of drilling, those calling for a statewide ban claim fracking pollutes the environment and damages infrastructure.

With music from the Terp Thon Color for the Kids race blasting in the background, Mayor Andy Fellows discussed his concerns about fracking with a small group of students gathered on the steps by McKeldin Library. Fellows and MaryPIRG members said they hoped the event would help students understand the logistics of gas drilling and its impact on the environment. Extracting resources by fracking can also rack up high costs by contaminating drinking water, damaging roads, causing health problems through air pollution and leading to earthquakes, according to a report published Thursday by advocacy organization Environment Maryland.

“In places like College Park, which is downstream, some people might not see this as an immediate issue,” said Fellows, who is also the Chesapeake regional director for the nonprofit organization Clean Water Action.

Despite the potential consequences, several students said the idea of fracking may be worth exploring.

“It brings in business; it brings in people; it brings in scientists — it helps build an economic community around this one action,” said sophomore music education major Matthew Dohm. “Bringing in the idea of fracking brings in technology to the economy.”

However, proponents may not understand the extent of the stresses fracking and storing wastewater can place on the environment, said MaryPIRG no-fracking campaign coordinator Nina Randazzo.

“It’s too dangerous,” Randazzo said. “And it can cause long-term climate change, too.”

Randazzo and Fellows added there would be less of a demand for natural gas if researchers concentrated on developing alternate, renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind or solar power.

“We can’t continue to rely on combustion to keep the lights on,” Randazzo said.

This semester, the university lobbying group will focus its efforts on educating students so they will be knowledgeable on environmental issues for the November presidential election.

In May, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule that would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking for oil and gas on public lands, a move Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has called harmful overregulation.

Sophomore computer science major Eddie Crouch said both the public and private sector should use whatever resources are available within the country’s borders to decrease reliance on foreign powers.

“However, this doesn’t change the fact that oil is ultimately a limited resource, and developing new technologies for extracting it is very much delaying the inevitable,” he added. “As far as the downsides [of fracking] go, they’re hardly comparable to those related to strip mining or quarrying, but the result, once again, is very short term.”

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