David and Goliath Story: Small Towns Versus Big Gas & Bigger Government

by Duane Nichols on January 3, 2013

Myersville Community Meeting


By Ann Marie Nau, Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, MD

As the controversy surrounding the extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, intensifies nationwide, Maryland has yet to issue any permits for fracking wells.  In 2011, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed an Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, which required the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources along with an advisory panel to study the issue and present recommendations regarding the extraction of natural gas in Maryland.  While the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative is not technically a moratorium on drilling and does not restrict the State’s ability to issue permits under existing law and regulation,  many of the land leases signed in anticipation of drilling have expired.   The issue remains contentious with some lawmakers calling for a moratorium while others insist that fracking is safe and poses an economic boon for the state.

While lawmakers continue to debate the topic of fracking in Maryland, some Maryland communities are already feeling the negative impacts of this extraction method.

The quaint town of Myersville, Maryland, nestled in the scenic Middletown Valley, finds itself at the center of a classic David and Goliath Story, pitting small town America against big gas.  A rural community of approximately 1,626, they celebrate the opening day of baseball with a parade down Main Street.  The volunteer fire department delights the elementary school children each summer during Field Day by spraying them with the fire hoses and by handing out candy during the annual Christmas parade.  It is a community with families that have lived in the valley for generations and newcomers seeking the peace and security a small town offers.  

It is here, less than 1 mile from the elementary school, closer still to the Fire Hall, which houses the only evacuation shelter, and within 2 miles of the entire town, that Dominion Transmission, Inc. (DTI), a subsidiary of power giant Dominion, seeks to place a 16,000 hp compressor station to move gas along its interstate gas pipeline.  Annually, the compressor station would emit:  47,000 lbs. of Nitrogen Oxide, 10,000 lbs. of Carbon Monoxide, 2,000 lbs. of Volatile Organic Compounds, 500 lbs. of Sulfur Dioxide, 5,500 lbs. of Particulate Matter, 1,800 lbs. of Hazardous Air Pollutants and 106,000 lbs. of Carbon Dioxide.

Nitrogen Oxide causes respiratory problems, heart conditions, and lung damage. Volatile Organic Compounds are carcinogenic and toxic substances that can damage the liver, kidney and central nervous system and can combine with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone, which can cause asthma and decrease lung function. Sulfur Dioxide, along with nitrogen oxide, are principal contributors to acid rain. Sulfur dioxide reacts with other chemicals to form particulate pollution, which can damage lungs and cause respiratory illness, heart conditions, and premature death.

In response to DTI’s proposal, over 600 opposition letters representing over 700 citizens, reflecting about 42% of the population, were submitted.  The so-called scoping meeting where the plan to construct the station was presented yielded a standing room only crowd.  Rallies were held in front of the town hall in opposition.  In August, the Mayor and Town Council unanimously voted against amending the Town Master Plan, denying DTI the necessary permits to build and operate the station.

Despite the outcry, despite the Town’s findings, the project pushes forward.  Because not only is Myersville fighting big business, it is fighting big government.  The citizens of this town were repeatedly told that while DTI should attempt to get the appropriate local permits, ultimate approval for the project lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Undeterred, the citizens of Myersville have continued to fight for their town.  They have submitted numerous letters to FERC, outlining their objections, pointing out concerns, citing the Clean Air Act, noting the proximity of the elementary school and the Lucy School (the only Maryland Platinum LEED certified school) and pointing out numerous errors in not only the initial application but also the whole FERC process.  They formed the Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community and hired an attorney.   

On December 20, 2012, FERC issued its order approving the project.  Despite this, the citizens of Myersville continue to battle for their community and the health and safety of their children.

Many of the citizens also believe that while DTI maintains that this infrastructure is necessary to move gas to two shippers, DTI’s real motives lie in preparing for the approval of liquefaction facilities at Cove Point in Lusby, Maryland.   The gas extracted at such a heavy cost to the environment would not be used domestically to foster America’s energy independence but rather sold at higher prices in overseas markets. Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 27,400 megawatts of generation, 11,000 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline and 6,300 miles of electric transmission lines.  Dominion operates one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 947 billion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves retail energy customers in 15 states.

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