Garrett County takes the right approach to fracking

July 21, 2015

The Frederick News-Post

Unlike some other states, Maryland refused to jump willy-nilly on the hydraulic fracturing bandwagon. Instead, Maryland has proceeded slowly and deliberately, preferring, if it errs, to be on the side of caution. Considering how the story of fracking has developed in recent years, the cautious approach has proved valuable.

As we said in a past editorial on this subject, Maryland can live without fracking, which is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to force open fissures that then release oil and gas. However, the matter of whether the state will eventually permit this method of recovering deeply buried natural gas and oil has not yet been settled.

As things stand, no fracking permits can be issued in the state until October 2017. The time between now and then should be used wisely for continued evaluation of the pros and cons of fracking, the latter of which have been widely reported.

That’s exactly what Garrett County is doing. A federal grant announced last week will help that county evaluate the wisdom of permitting fracking there. According to The Associated Press, the federal government, via the Appalachian Regional Commission, has awarded Garrett County a $37,500 matching-funds grant to “explore potential impacts on tourism, property values and outdoor recreation if the state allows fracking in western Maryland.”

Those concerns are of great significance in Garrett County, which is home to Deep Creek Lake and is a major recreation area. As reported in the AP story, in April the Garrett County Commissioners said they wanted an “objective study of the potential economic impact amid concern from businesses in the Deep Creek Lake resort area that depend largely on tourism and second-home buyers.” The natural resources and recreation venues of Garrett County drive its economy, and doing anything to jeopardize their value wouldn’t make sense.

This study will be money well spent — an investment that some communities elsewhere likely wish they’d made before embracing fracking. A March 2014 story titled “Drilling vs. the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values,” includes examples that illustrate the potential negative effect of fracking on property values, including these two:

  • In April 2014, a Texas jury awarded just under $3 million to a family whose health and lives were turned upside down by the emissions coming from dozens of wells that had been drilled near their home. The verdict, which compensated the family for pain and suffering from illnesses linked to exposure to oil production and fracking chemicals, also included $275,000 for the loss in market value of their property caused by all the drilling.
  • In a 2013 survey of 550 people conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver, a strong majority said they would decline to buy a home near a drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature , also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent.
Those are but two of many such reports that, taken together, create a strong warning that fracking can diminish property values. Requesting this economic-impact study was a wise move by the Garrett County Commissioners, who are listening to and acting on the very real concerns of their constituents. Once the report is complete, Garrett County can make an informed decision about whether it wants to permit fracking.

We suspect that when it has all the facts, the answer will be “No.”