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Fracking and Miller’s mistaken views

In the Jan. 11 Annapolis Summit co-hosted by The Daily Record, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said that fracking “affects two counties where there are no jobs whatsoever.”

Presumably Miller was referring to Garrett and Allegany counties, which sit atop the Marcellus Shale formation. Contrary to Miller’s assertion, Garrett County, where I reside, is home to a thriving tourist industry that grew by 6 percent during the last year, as well as a robust second-home market. Together, these businesses provide clean jobs to hundreds of county residents. In fact, the unemployment rate for Garrett County is 4.9 percent, compared with rates of 5.7 percent in Pennsylvania and 6.0 percent in West Virginia, two states where fracking is ongoing.

True, western Maryland mirrors much of the country in the loss of some historically available jobs. Gone are the days when high school graduates could count on getting a job at the local factory. Factory jobs, in fact, were not “stolen” by countries such as China, but were lost to China and other countries due to a globalized economy that U. S. politicians and corporations have fully endorsed.

Although coal miners blame unsympathetic politicians for lost jobs, mechanization and alternative energy sources are the bigger culprits.

It’s true that western Maryland jobs related to the extraction industries (timber, coal) have substantially disappeared. However, the remedy should not be a new extraction industry (fracking), with all of the resulting hazards.

Contrary to the American Petroleum Institute’s PR campaign, the “hundreds of jobs” that fracking proponents say would be created in the local economy are largely itinerant laborers. The few jobs for local residents would be largely low-skilled and temporary. Most important, the fracking industry poses an existential threat to western Maryland’s thriving tourist industry. Any potential fracking-related jobs would be offset by a corresponding loss of jobs in the tourist industry.

These two economies, tourism and fracking, cannot exist side by side. And the tourism industry, once destroyed, cannot be revived. In addition, the negative impacts of nearby fracking operations will most likely cause a substantial devaluation of the valuable second-home market, a market which currently provides 60 percent of the tax revenue for the county.

The real economy

Until western Maryland can attract clean industries that require well-educated workers, the current economic paradigm for this rural area will not change. Local youth who aspire to a better standard of living struggle through college and find well-paying jobs elsewhere, seldom to return. Those who remain hope to find jobs in the tourism, retail, agricultural, or service sectors.

Although the local community college (Garrett College) offers an academic program intended for students who plan to transfer to four-year institutions, a significant number of these students come from locales other than Garrett County, such as Baltimore, and these students seldom remain in Garrett County upon graduation. For those students who plan to reside in western Maryland, the college offers training in adventure sports, truck driving, and other skilled trades that will help prepare them for local employment. Changing this economic model will require a collaborative effort on the part of the state and local governments.

The American Petroleum Institute and those who promise an economic boon from fracking are perpetrating a cruel hoax on western Maryland, and the residents will bear the long-term consequences. While oil and gas companies stand to profit from their fracking operations, relatively few western Maryland citizens will see anything but harms from this dirty industry.

The beautiful, natural landscape of western Maryland exists for all Marylanders, not just for those who reside here. For that reason, we in western Maryland call on legislators across the state to save this most precious resource by banning fracking in the state of Maryland.

Dick Carroll is a board member of Citizen Shale. He lives in Oakland, Md.