JIM LO SCALZO /Fracking, a method to extract gas or oil from underground shale rock, has been tied to earthquakes and pollution. Maryland just banned it, but Pennsylvania is the nation's No. 2 natural gas-producing state.
By Will Bunch , Daily News Columnist
MARCH 30, 2017
A mighty cheer rose from the Senate gallery when lawmakers gave final passage to a bill that environmentalists had been seeking for years. Some citizens even held up their cell phones to record the happy moment on video.
All that remained for the bill that would permanently ban fracking would be the signature of the measure's stunning 11th-hour supporter, the governor.
But the governor of what? I'll tell you later in this column. Just kidding, I'll tell you now. But first I'll tell you who it wasn't: It wasn't Gov. Tom Wolf, the leader of the frack-happy commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Nope, this was Maryland, our friendly neighbor on the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line. And here's the most surprising part: The governor next door who's banning fracking is a pro-business Republican, Larry Hogan.
It wasn't long ago that the GOP's Hogan talked just like Pennsylvania's political leaders -- Democrat and Republican -- in that his pupils turned into giant dollar signs over the notion of extracting millions of barrels of natural gas from the mountainous western sliver of Maryland. When Hogan successfully ran for that state's top job in 2014, he called its underground energy reserves "an economic gold mine."
But Larry Hogan is a very smart politician -- as you'd expect from a Republican who somehow won a high-profile statewide election in deep-blue Maryland. Over the next three years, he saw the headlines on fracking: That wastewater disposal has been linked to swarms of earthquakes in Oklahoma and elsewhere, that a growing number of studies showed water pollution and health concerns for people living near drilling pads, and that methane leaks meant that fracking wasn't even helping on the climate change front.
A couple of weeks ago, Hogan shocked everyone by announcing that he would sign a total statewide ban on fracking if the bill wending its way through the Maryland legislature reached his desk: Said the governor: "The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits…. I’ve decided that we must take the next step and move from virtually banning fracking (Maryland has had a moratorium in place) to actually banning fracking.”
You probably know that it's been a different story here in Pennsylvania, which over the last decade has become one of the nation's top natural-gas-producing states while allowing the big energy companies to run roughshod over the political process. Most voters here in the Keystone State expected major changes in environmental policy when Tom Wolf was elected governor in 2014, the same time that Hogan rolled to victory on our southern border; indeed, a severance tax on fracking that had been taken off the table by the stridently pro-gas GOP Gov. Tom Corbett was a cornerstone of the Wolf agenda.
Since Wolf's election, at least one survey named him America's most liberal governor -- but it hasn't really played out that way on the issue of fracking. To Wolf's credit, he initially moved to step up regulation of the industry that had sagged under Corbett. But his plan to pay for a major boost in school funding with the fracking tax also meant that Wolf would be economically wedded to the continued exploitation of fossil fuels in Pennsylvania, even as studies laid out the risky public health impacts and as concern rose over the role those fuels play in climate change….
To access the COMPLETE news,