AT Note: This important letter has appeared in several publications, and we thank Mr. Bambacus for granting permission to post here:
The Exploitation of Our Region’s Natural Resources
Consider this for a moment: The City of Frostburg is providing city drinking water to Samson Resources to use for hydrofracking just outside of its watershed in an exploratory search for Marcellus Shale.
Hydrofracking is a drilling technique that, because it injects millions of gallons of water-hogging and toxic chemicals into the ground, should be done with a high level of due diligence, to include independent monitoring systems and regulations in place that secure groundwater and protect the public health and well-being.
Frostburg officials have also hired an engineering firm to see if the Piney Watershed Impoundment might also be a good place to consider hydrofracking the City’s freshwater aquifers and stream tributaries for shale gas exploration.
In all cases where it is employed, the work should be monitored by experts employed by the public, but paid for by the developer. Moreover, the monitoring itself should be actively involved on a minute-by- minute basis. It must be extremely proactive for once an aquifer or stream tributary is destroyed it is gone forever.
It is simply breathtakingly incredible that local officials here would sign away something as essential as the public drinking water supply without insisting on this precondition. The public’s interest needs to be represented—not only by our elected officials, but also by a competent attorney specializing in mineral extraction, the cost of which should be embedded in any permit fees.
The City of Cumberland is considering an offer to sell thousands of acres in its watershed.
Garrett County’s Backbone Mountain industrial wind turbine array is nearly complete, and a proposed mine under the Casselman River awaits local and state approvals.
And much of this destruction, devastation, and industrialization of our ecosystems has been accomplished with the willing and eager participation of many of our state and local elected representatives. Corporate and political interests are aligned against what should be the public’s interest.
Over the last 5 years, environmental degradation to our beautiful natural landscape is occurring without the public’s knowledge as closed-door negotiations among local and state government and energy companies take place. And, of course there is very limited federal, state, and local regulatory oversight. Recall how state politicians recently colluded with local officials to take permitting for the wind industry away from public scrutiny.
Henry Caudill, writing on Appalachia’s natural resources, got to the heart of the matter:
“Industry has always treated the mountains with contempt…protests while heard will produce little change. Since the year 1000 the discovery of immense new stores of resources coupled with endless technological innovations have elevated living standards enormously but society is still essentially feudal, still fundamentally composed of barons and serfs. The distinction is one of power. The industrialists — that is the destroyers and polluters — are the barons. They sit in boardrooms where the weight of limitless millions focuses. The serfs are the millions of one vote citizens whose taxes subsidize and support the system. They can never reach the ear of a president or governor, and their usual, and usually worthless, way of asserting an opinion or preference is a letter to the editor. As was the case in feudal England, the barons blithely disregard them while acquiring new tax immunities, new special privileges, and new millions.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same…. Let’s challenge our leaders to consult the better angels of their natures. For if they don’t stand up for our mountains and our supply of drinking water, there’s little hope for much else.
John N. Bambacus
Mr. Bambacus is a former state senator representing Garrett and Allegany Counties and a former mayor of Frostburg