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Is "Fracking Ocean City?" the Next Documentary?

Last week two authors researched and wrote the following piece intending to make it public today. On Friday, March 17, Governor Hogan made a surprise announcement that he supported the Fracking Ban which had been passed in the House. This means the Senate must still act on the ban and pass a bill, or they could do nothing. There are currently two bills being talked about in the Senate. The ban bill, SB 740 sponsored by Sen. Zirkin and a moratorium bill with a county by county referendum, SB 862 sponsored by Sen. Conway and co-sponsored by Sen. Edwards and Senate President Mike Miller.

Governor Hogan's support for a ban has not affected any of the facts below.

Why would we bring Ocean City and Worcester County into Maryland’s current fracking debate after focusing on Western Maryland for 2 years? Because a report in the Marcellus Shale News states: "MDN has said there are only two counties in Maryland where any kind of fracking would conceivably happen: Allegany and Garrett. Those two counties, located at the far interior of Maryland and as far from the Chesapeake Bay and coast as you can get in Maryland, have abundant Marcellus Shale beneath them. But an “assessment” recently published by the U.S. Geological Survey of shale basins along the East Coast has changed all that. There are several other shale basins, notably the Taylorsville and Delmarva basins, where there is likely recoverable shale gas in quantity." Drew Cobbs, the chief lobbyist for the Gas & Oil Industry in Maryland and his co-workers from the American Petroleum Institute were very careful to not mention the Delmarva gas basin in recent Senate hearings on Senate Bill 740 and Senate Bill 862 at which we also attended and testified. We video recorded their testimony to Sen. Joan Carter Conway and her Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and are fully aware of what they did and did not talk about. The last thing API wants is to draw attention to the fact SB 862 could allow fracking near the Assawoman Bay and Ocean Pines, within sight from Ocean City’s high rise condos.

The shore is not like Garrett County where some of the fracking rigs could get visually lost in the hills if you are boating on Deep Creek Lake. In the “land of pleasant living” you can see for miles. Especially from beach front condos, 20 stories up. Sunset will look a little different with gas flares going off. It should make for dramatic landscape shots. Traffic is already heavy enough in the summer without adding thousands of 5,000 gallon water trucks in convoys. The Maryland House of Delegates recently voted to ban fracking with a very solid veto-proof margin, 97 to 40 including 8 Republicans. Now the fate of the debate sits squarely on the broad political shoulders of Senator Conway of Baltimore’s district 43 which has no gas reserves and no possible threat of ever being fracked. This would seem to make Senator Conway the perfect unbiased chair of the committee which now holds the fate of the Senate vote to ban now or have a referendum later in her hands. A few weeks ago SB740 was put forward by Senator Bobby Zirkin which proposes to Ban Fracking in Maryland just like the recently adopted House Bill. Zirkin’s bill had 23 co-sponsors. Shortly after that, Sen. Conway offered a bill she had written, SB862 with 24 co- sponsors. Six of them were Senators who had also sponsored Senator Zirkins SB740 ban. Senators are allowed to back competing bills and“hedge their bets” like that. The key part of Senator Conway’s bill reads: AT THE 2018 GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION, EACH LOCAL JURISDICTION IN THE STATE SHALL SUBMIT TO A REFERENDUM OF THE VOTERS OF THE LOCAL JURISDICTION THE QUESTION OF WHETHER TO AUTHORIZE HYDRAULIC FRACTURING IN THE LOCAL JURISDICTION. Which gives the voters in each county in Maryland the power and the right to choose whether they want to ban fracking in the county where they live and vote. What could possibly be wrong with this idea? It’s power to the people in it’s most direct form. If you are Senator Conway or her bill’s two most notable co-sponsors, Republican Senator George Edwards from District 1 and Mike Miller, the President of the Maryland Senate, we believe a lot of things are wrong with it which they may not have totally considered as political realities or unintended consequences. If successful, SB862 allows the Gas & Oil Industry to focus their formidable public relations and advertising machine on the voters in just the counties they want to frack. The opinions and the votes of the rest of the state will not matter. We believe that in two of the counties which could approve fracking under SB862 this sets up a Maryland policy of “taxation without representation.” The primary and almost exclusive focus of the fracking debate has been centered on Garrett County, which is where we focused our attention in our first documentary "Fracking Western Maryland?". When Senator Conway asks for a referendum of people registered to vote in each county she is leaving out an important part of the economics in Garrett County; the secondary property owner.

Information from the Garrett County Finance Department shows there are 8,226 primary residents (property owners) on the tax roles, valued at $1,181,279,498 ($1.2 billion) and 21,351 secondary property owners, which is valued at $3,093,423,864 ($3.1 billion). This means that secondary property owners pay 75% of the real estate tax (property tax). These property owners rarely use county services, such as schools, fire, law enforcement, or many of the county’s social programs; many of these property owners also pay ad valorem taxes for water and sewer projects/services.

In addition they are the primary clients buying and selling properties generating Local Transfer taxes of $1.5 million and Recordation tax of $1.7 million (2014 County Budget) for another $3.2 million in taxes. As a side note, 84,000 acres of County and State owned lands are exempt from taxation in Garrett County. Their preservation and maintenance are supported by these out of county 2nd home owners. While secondary property owners carry the lion's share of the tax burden in Garrett County they will not be represented in the referendum Conway’s bill SB862 requires that will impact their 2nd home investments. Now let’s shift our focus back to our next documentary, "Fracking Ocean City?" if Conway’s SB862 becomes law. Our research finds that the situation in Worcester County, home to Ocean City, Ocean Pines, Berlin and many vacation and retirement communities mirrors what we found in Garrett County 2 years ago, only with more people involved in the equation and an even higher number of 2nd homes, investment rentals, condos and hotel and motel rooms.

Worcester County and Garrett County are Maryland’s two most important outdoor recreation areas and a getaway playground for virtually every person in Maryland and many from beyond our borders. The primary “industry” of these 2 areas is tourism. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan believes in the value of that tourism so much, he issued a rare Executive Order to change the school year in an effort to extend the summer tourism season in both areas. It was an EO to help the small business person and service employees in those areas. SB862 is “taxation without representation” and we don’t know how any Republican Governor like Larry Hogan could possibly support this concept. Ocean City has 8,000 year round residents and 8 million visitors annually. If the SB862 moratorium and referendum become law this session we believe the original Boston Tea Party staged on December 16, 1773 by Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty will become a popular re-enactment on the docks of Deep Creek Lake in McHenry, MD and along Assawoman Bay bordering Ocean City this summer. The 4th of July fireworks could take on additional meaning at our resorts this year. In the last comparable general election in 2014 approximately 9,000 votes were cast by just under 50% of the registered voters in Garrett County. In Worcester County about 18,000 votes were cast. This means the Gas & Oil Industry, would only need 4501 votes to start fracking in Garrett County and 9001 in Worcester County. So the registered voters of Garrett and Worcester Counties can expect the American Petroleum Institute to fund more robo-calls, more yard signs, more door knocking, more slick commercials about Jobs and “clean energy” on their favorite TV stations during Steelers and Ravens games and on Fox News than they have ever seen, read or heard in the summer and fall of 2018. The voter registration in both counties is heavily Republican, which makes voter targeting even easier. As a documentarian the political irony is the fact the 2018 election cycle will also coincide with Republican Gov. Hogan's, Senator Edwards' and Delegate Beitzel’s re-elections, making it a referendum on them as well in Western Maryland. It will also be time for the re-election of Congressman Andy Harris in District 1 and we have to assume he’ll be beating the drum for fracking and President Trumps policies. Why would Hogan possibly want to veto SB740 as Senator Conway suggests and seems to fear when every poll shows over 60% of Maryland voters favor a statewide ban? Many people cast their ballots on single issues in emotional, heart-felt debates like guns and abortion. We believe fracking is one of those very emotional issues in Maryland right now. All you have to do is watch YouTube videos of the recent marches and rallies and read the Facebook posts… people are outraged, angry, informed, organized and they want a ban. The ban passed in the House because representatives were feeling the burn of their constituents. The Gas & Oil Industry has nothing to loose by supporting Senator Conway’s SB 862. Republican Senator Edwards, Delegates Beitzel, Otto and Carozza and Gov. Hogan could be their “collateral damage” in 2018 if SB862 is on the ballot instead of banning fracking now with SB740. Democratic Senators Conway, Miller and Mathias might be prudent to also consider that possibility in their 2018 re-election bids. Senator Conway has said she supports a fracking ban. If we were in her shoes, we’d be looking for the votes in the Senate to ban fracking now and not trust that the dominantly rural Republican voters in two counties nowhere near her Urban Democratic district will do “the right thing” in 2018 and ban fracking then. However this plays out politically we will continue to document and report on the Fracking debate process here in Maryland. Will the sequel be "Fracking Ocean City?" Mike Wicklein Baltimore, MD Producer of the documentary "Fracking Western Maryland?" Eric Robison Oakland, MD Founding member of Engage Mountain Maryland Sponsors of the Premier of "Fracking Western Maryland?"

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