Maryland business owners, residents to rally in support legislation to prohibit fracking



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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Bob Orr is worried what fracking might do to Deep Creek Lake. Tiffany Blackden is scared for her son.

The two are among a growing number of concerned business owners and residents in Western Maryland, which is targeted for future natural gas drilling.

"Economically we have a golden goose in western Maryland: Deep Creek Lake," said Orr, owner of Offlake Rental & Leasing. "It is our economy, it is our industry. People who come to Garrett County come here because of how beautiful everything is. There's nothing beautiful about Marcellus Shale exploration."

On Tuesday, members of Don't Frack Maryland plan to rally in Annapolis ahead of a hearing on a proposed prohibition on fracking in Maryland. In addition, a letter signed by more than 80 tourism businesses was sent to the Maryland General Assembly in support of hitting the stop button.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process by which highly pressurized water, chemicals and sand are pumped into the ground, shaking loose rocks and releasing gas.

The legislation "prohibits a person from engaging in the hydraulic fracturing of a well for the exploration or production of natural gas and from storing, treating, discharging, or disposing of 'flow back' or other wastewater resulting from hydraulic fracturing in Maryland."

Blackden said the health of her son brought her family to Garrett County four years ago, and it's what worries her if fracking starts in Maryland.

Blackden's son has Mast Cell Activation Disorder, a metabolic problem that results in the body's struggle to detoxify itself, she said.

"His enzymes don't clear things as well as yours or mine would," Blackden said. "His body reacts to any man-made chemicals."

The Blackden family moved from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Maryland in hope of finding a balance of rural living with easy access to medical resources.

They own a family entertainment center in Oakland, Maryland, and plan another business investment in nearby McHenry, but that hinges on whether the family remains in the area.

"My children cannot live here if we have fracking come," Blackden said. "I will not keep my children in this county to be subjected to these toxic chemicals. There're just so many risks."

In 2011, then Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley directed an advisory commission to study the potential for fracking in Maryland's western Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

Critics, including two commission members, said the risks to public health were not adequately considered.

Del. Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett County, defended the practice last month after a separate bill to place an eight-year moratorium on fracking was proposed. He said the claim that fracking would hurt tourism in western Maryland didn't hold water.

"Gas companies are not going to come to Deep Creek Lake and drill around the perimeter of the lake because first off they'll never get leases to do it," Beitzel said. "When they come in to the county, we're going to see an increase in occupancy rates of hotels, we'll see an increase in property values, real estate in the county."

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