We Need A Surgeon General’s Report For Fracked Gas Exports At Cove Point

This post originally appeared on Health and Environmental Funders Network Blog, Giving InSight, on [April 15, 2014]:http://towncreekfdn.org//hefn.org/connect/blog/we_need_surgeon_generals_report_fracked_gas_exports_cove_point


ccan_cove_point_1This post was authored by Katie Huffling, program director for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power and Light (DC, MD, NoVA), and Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Megan Milliken from the Town Creek Foundation shares this introduction:

Maryland, which loses 1.6 acres of state land each day from sea level rise, is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  The Town Creek Foundation is committed to helping Maryland exceed its goals of reducing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its greenhouse gas emissions, including through transition to clean energy alternatives.  Dominion Resources’ Cove Point plan to convert a liquid natural gas (LNG) import facility on the Eastern shore of Maryland into a major natural gas export facility will reinforce our dependence of fossil fuels with a facility that will only exacerbate the problem. 

The fight against Cove Point is not a matter of one facility, but of Maryland’s clean energy future.  Dominion has green-washed their communications, arguing that this is a great solution for Maryland, but it is simply a profitable opportunity for Dominion.  If the public fully understands the implications of this facility, it would not stand a chance.  As the following post outlines, Stop Cove Point advocates, including Town Creek grantees Interfaith Power and Light and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, are galvanizing public support in opposition to the facility, while supporting a reinvestment in clean energy.  We believe that Cove Point presents a dramatic example of wrong choices for Maryland’s energy future and, as such, provides a platform on which to promote an alternative vision.


Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancerchanged America forever. Before the report, Americans generally assumed smoking was okay – maybe even good for us given ads like, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” But then the hard evidence – the undeniable facts – came to the surface and public opinion shifted.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Maryland is that there’s a new “Camel cigarette” problem. For the past several months, a powerful corporation called Dominion Resources has been telling Marylanders that we can light something else on fire – something called “fracked gas” – and that it will be good for public healthand the environment. Dominion wants to build a massive industrial plant at a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland to systematically collect, process, liquefy, and export to faraway Asia a huge quantity of gas taken from hydraulic fracturing drilling sites all across the region.

To understand the full-blown public health emergency that could result from this, remember this number: 19. Nineteen out of Maryland’s 23 counties have recently been mapped and found to have gas basins below their surface. Every one of those 19 counties could get fracked – with attendant problems ranging from flammable tap water to deforestation – thanks directly or indirectly to Dominion’s Cove Point plan.

Here are the facts. Wherever fracking occurs, wherever you drill down a mile deep and set off explosions to free up natural gas, problems occur. Again, these range from thedocumented contamination of drinking water near drilling sites to the triggering of earthquakes from the reinjection of the drilling water into the ground. Further health risks include toxic and hormone-disrupting chemicals released into surface and ground waters.

Dominion’s plan is to pipe the fracked gas from as far away as New York and – potentially – from all across Maryland to Cove Point on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. There, with the aid of a large new power plant, the gas would be liquefied to 260 degrees below zero. The liquefaction process itself would combust so much gas and use so much propane that it could generate more global warming pollution than four of Maryland’s biggest coal-fired power plants. And Dominion still calls this “clean energy.”

Image source: Emma Hohenstein, Chesapeake Climate Action Network


The gas would then be poured onto massive vessels and shipped to India and Japan to be re-vaporized and piped again to be finally burned for energy. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dominion, our analysis is that the “life-cycle” emissions from this process make liquefied and exported fracked gas almost certainly as bad for the global atmosphere as burning coal!

And yet the U.S. Department of Energy has given preliminary approval to seven gas export facilities in Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and at Cove Point in Maryland. More than a dozen others have been proposed by the gas industry. If all of them were built, it would create the greenhouse gas equivalent of adding 100 coal-fired power plants to U.S. emissions. It would, in short, make a mockery of the White House “climate action plan” proposed by the President last summer.

Understandably, this is hard for many people to believe.  Not unlike Big Tobacco in the 1950s, the gas industry has bombarded the public with TV and print ads heralding the appeal and safe-use benefits of gas. But the facts – as with tobacco – are the facts. In early February, a major panel of scientists declared that U.S. cities that switch their bus fleets over to fracked gas are not reducing their greenhouse pollution below conventional fleets. No climate change benefits at all.

It turns out Dominion doesn’t think the federal government should conduct a comprehensive environmental statement for its $3.8 billion, highly polluting, region-transforming project. And so far the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to forgo such a study.

Why does Dominion oppose an EIS? One can only assume it’s because the company fears an EIS would be the equivalent of a Surgeon General’s report. Among other things, an EIS would show that residents in southern Maryland can expect worsening asthma rates as their air quality deteriorates from the constant flaring and liquefying of gas.

Maryland needs and deserves a Surgeon General’s report on Cove Point, covering the whole scheme of drilling for fracked gas and exporting it through the state.