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Friday, July 19, 2013

A response to Food and Water Watch on my work in Maryland


At the risk of calling attention to something that I don’t think deserves much, this blog post by Jorge Aguilar of Food and Water Watch – whom I’ve never met or spoken to -takes a skewed look at both me and my work consulting (mentioned here, for example) to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources on shale gas development.

Mr. Aguilar notes that I “served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during the state’s rapid expansion of fracking” – suggesting that correlation implies causation. He doesn't say - and may not even know - that I was not a regulator but a public lands manager – one who was ordered by the General Assembly to lease state forest land for gas exploration to help balance the state budget, and who voiced concern about it at my professional peril. I worked with the women and men of the agency to minimize the impact of the mandated leasing, and to understand its potential impacts. I worked with my former colleague John Hanger to enact (for a time) additional protections for state forest land that would be drilled. I ordered the development of best management practices and a comprehensive monitoring program for gas development on state forest lands. And I wrote and helped convince my boss Governor Ed Rendell to sign a moratorium on further state forest leasing. 

Aguilar goes on to unfold his indictment:
Now a consultant, Quigley has written this report for the DNR, shared anonymously with Food & Water Watch by administration officials, that shows O’Malley tapping into Quigley’s expertise to push controversial “comprehensive drilling plans,” a new type of regulation that aims to cluster fracking drill pads in small sacrifice zones within the state.
Read my report - which will be posted on Maryland Department of the Environment's website and presented at a public meeting on Monday - for yourself to see if you can detect any hint of controversy over CDP’s.  Except, perhaps, from opponents of drilling who see any contemplated regulation – regardless of how strict – as allowing drilling, and therefore unacceptable.

But it gets better. 
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Quigley, after all, has been a main consultant for PennFuture, an environmental group who was a strategic partner in creating the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. This center is a marriage of pro-business environmental organizations like PennFuture and the Environmental Defense Fund and major oil and gas companies such as Chevron and Shell to develop voluntary performance standards for fracking. In other words, these groups are promoting voluntary rules agreed to by the industry. Former PennFuture CEO John Hanger also went on to become Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and failed to protect the state’s environment from the inevitable pollution from fracking.
I was a consultant to PennFuture from February, 2011 until April 2012 (and - shudder - worked for the organization back in 2003-2005). I was not involved in their work with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, though I support it. The gratuitous swipe at my friend and former colleague John Hanger is about as wrong as it can be. 
In a ridiculous gesture of public relations prowess, Quigley says in his report that Maryland has a chance to create environmental and business “win—wins” by moving forward with the “responsible” drilling of natural gas. What Quigley views as the first “win” is really just “less loss” from an environmental perspective. This is coming from a guy who might not have been setting the bar very high for safety when he said, “incidents and accidents are inevitable; you’re never going to bat 1.000. 
Putting aside Aguilar’s snideness, read the rest of the report and the linked article and judge my level of concern for the environment for yourself.  And if you’re interested in more, peruse this blog, or this one, and again judge for yourself.

Aguilar quotes Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission member Paul Roberts.  I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Roberts and corresponding with him. I deeply respect his views, though we might not agree on everything – such as natural gas’ role in combating climate disruption. He is certainly entitled to his views. 

I was born and raised - and eventually became an elected official - in a "production zone" - a coal town in Northeastern Pennsylvania that still reels from the impacts of mining decades after most of it ended. I know more than I wish I did about environmental degradation from irresponsible fossil fuel extraction.  I've spent a good deal of my career working for a better way and for a sustainable future, now trying to do that in my consulting practice.  I believe that the approach that Maryland is taking - a careful, methodical, cautious, and transparent one - is exemplary.  I think the regulations that they are contemplating if - if - drilling is eventually allowed to go forward would make the Old Line State among the nation's strongest regulators of natural gas production and protectors of our natural endowment. Could they be improved? Should they be implemented? Those are questions for the citizens of Maryland to decide.

And unlike Mr. Aguilar, I do believe it's possible to get fracking right.  We in this nation are a long way from that now, but with continuing vigilance and participation of all stakeholders, we can get there. We must get there - as fast as possible. Maryland and Governor O'Malley are trying to do it right.  That effort should be recognized and respected.  The highest form of respect is to participate in the process. Its success depends on all of us.

5 comments:

  1. You and Mr. Hanger both deserve much better than the blind ire of groups that make a living out of purporting to protect the environment, simply for being pragmatic.

    These folks, unlike yourself, have never been in the game, faced with having to make these real life decisions. It's easy to throw rhetorical stones from the sideline when there are no repercussions. I'll stop now, lest you be accused of conspiring with "big oil".

    Best,

    Mike

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Mike.

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  3. Mr. Quigley,
    Despite protestations from industry & others that fracking "can be done right" or as above "it's possible to get fracking right", governments and regulators can't even keep sewage out of our water, let alone properly manage, monitor or even enforce regulations on a process fraught with dangers to ground water - with even just one mistake. And science continues to evolve on what can rightfully be considered safe with fracking. See this new study by way of the Nat'l Academy of Sciences suggesting 3300'(1 km) setbacks versus the proposed 1000'(those in the gas industry has proposed 2000' for their own interests): http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/06/19/1221635110.full.pdf+html

    The State of Maryland - WITHOUT conducting a Risk Assessment or Public Health Assessment - has put forward a Best Management Practices Report, practically presuming fracking's inevitability, yet you gladhand them on their approach. It seems the bar has indeed been set low in your home state of Pennsylvania.

    Given the relatively small amount of gas production that can be realized in Maryland compared to the vast swaths available elsewhere, it seems also that shale gas development in Garrett County is instead fuel for Mr. O'Malley's self-serving presidential ambitions - making the term "sacrifice zone" all the more apt. Why the governor and the State of Maryland turn to someone like yourself to be a consultant, after the dismal record of shale gas development safety record and performance in Pennsylvania, certainly raises more questions and concerns - even as Mr. Aquilar clumsily puts forward - than is addressed by your Queen Gertrude-like response above. It's nearly akin to hiring someone named Paterno from Penn State University for the University of Maryland football staff.

    It's not blind ire to suggest that most in Garrett County would prefer to preserve the pristine, wild & scenic beauty of Garrett County that is the basis for the county's tourism and adventure industries and a way of life we so enjoy, rather than high-risk industrialization. You and Mr. Knapp can be assured we're "in the game" in western Maryland, facing the consequences and "repercussions" of some very "real life decisions" now being made - and in some cases manipulated by powerful interests outside our area.

    Sincerely,
    Fred Fox

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  4. Fred,

    Your comments are unfortunately typical of the ad hominem, conspiracy-behind-every-door approach that is all-too-often taken by opponents of shale gas development. They speak volumes about your reasoning - or lack of it. For that reason, I'm not going to delete them. Readers of this blog should judge the worth of your comments for themselves.

    You obviously didn't bother to read any of my blogs, or understand what I did in while in public service, or that I have been out of Pennsylvania government for over two and a half years, or that I have been advocating in my work for much stronger regulation of shale gas development. And you clearly don't understand - or care to - the substance of my advice or how important and unprecedented a state mandating CDP would be IF Maryland eventually allows drilling. Apparently, since I come from Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania has experienced problems with gas drilling, I'm unqualified to offer advice - and maybe even part of the conspiracy to foist drilling on Maryland. Brilliant deductions on your part. Just brilliant.

    You're entitled to your opinions - even your tortured "logic". But if you're really concerned about drilling and want to be a credible and effective advocate for your position, here's a little advice: muffed attempts at literary allusions, clumsy sports references, and veering to character assassination won't win "the game" and just make you look like you're unable to make a reasoned argument. The issues at stake in Maryland and in other shale gas states demand a lot better.

    John

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