Oct. 24–CUMBERLAND — Hopefuls for the Maryland House of Delegates differed sharply Monday on Maryland’s decision to place a ban on fracking.
The exchange on the topic took place at a forum held at Allegany College of Maryland and broadcast by WCBC Radio. The event was also livestreamed on WCBC’s Facebook page.
The three seats that make up the Western Maryland legislative delegation represent districts 1A, 1B and 1C. The districts represent Garrett and Allegany counties as well as the western portion of Washington County.
Candidates for the 1A seat are incumbent Del. Wendell Beitzel, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Mike Dreisbach. Running for 1B is incumbent Del. Jason Buckel and Democratic challenger Penny Walker. Seat 1C is between Daniel DelMonte of the Green Party and incumbent Republican Del. Mike McKay. McKay, who had a scheduling conflict, was the only candidate not present for the event.
Gov. Larry Hogan surprised the delegation in March 2017 when he declared his support for a ban on fracking in Maryland. The candidates were asked for their thoughts on the decision.
The following responses are in the same order they occurred at the forum.
DelMonte, an occupational therapist, said he was “jubilant that it (fracking) did not get passed.” However, he used the remainder of his time to express his opposition to placing gas pipelines beneath the Potomac River, saying “gas lines leak,” and it could negatively impact those getting their drinking water from the river.
Walker, the owner of Maddcatt Vapors on South George Street, was next to respond.
“I can only explain Gov. Hogan’s actions by saying it was the will of the people,” said Walker. “I think it’s great. This is not a red and blue issue. It is a bipartisan issue that people feel very strongly about. I think most are opposed to it here because they stay here and live here because they love this environment. They value and treasure our natural resources.”
Buckel, an attorney, said he supports Hogan, but didn’t agree with him on fracking.
“I think Gov. Hogan and his team bowed to statewide political realities,” said Buckel. “The League of Conservation Voters has a scorecard and it comes out in the Montgomery County Democratic primaries. If the league says ‘you didn’t back us 100 percent,’ you don’t get their endorsement in the primary. The state political implications are what came in.”
Buckel said fracking would have brought jobs.
“These folks are sitting up here and are telling you how much we need jobs,” said Buckel. “I’ve been (serving) four years. There is only one industry (fracking) that said it can come to a portion of Allegany County and most of Garrett County, we can come there and create tens of millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds to thousands of jobs, and we said no. So I don’t think you can say I’m for economic development, but we’re turning away jobs that (could) exist.
“The city of Cumberland gets its water from Pennsylvania, that’s had fracking for 10 years. The other side is West Virginia that has fracking. You’re entitled to your opinions, but it is not going to be the apocalypse that they say.”
Dreisbach, a former labor mediator, owns the Savage River Lodge and Cornucopia Cafe in Grantsville.
“I was heavily involved in the fracking debate,” said Dreisbach. “First of all, Larry Hogan didn’t support it. He had a veto-proof margin in the House and the Senate. And, for about four years, these guys (delegates) were going down state telling everyone down there everybody in Garrett County wants fracking. That was a lie.
“So, it took a lot of people in the tourism industry up here to go down and make sure that everyone in the state who comes up here to recreate and buy big houses at Deep Creek Lake, that their investments were protected.
“Also, as a labor mediator, I worked in Wyoming and Colorado, and I watched what fracking did to their areas. This is the kind of crap they tried to pass on everybody else. What happens is these job-shoppers come into the area … they come in and work day and night and then take all the money back to Oklahoma or Wyoming … when they leave, the illusion of all these jobs here is zero or very few.
“They (the delegates) made people think … Jason just said tens of thousand of jobs. That was a big bunch of crap. I will always fight for this environment and our tourism industry up here. It would have destroyed the Deep Creek Lake tourism industry, it would destroy the Yough(iogheny) River … Friendsville would be sucking water from Pennsylvania.”
Beitzel, the largest single landowner in Western Maryland, responded.
“There was a whole bunch of malarkey and baloney stated there,” said Beitzel. “I was very unhappy and disappointed that Gov. Hogan made the decision he did. When he first came into office he indicated he would support natural gas development in Western Maryland.
“As far as it not being an economic benefit, just think of the landowners that own mineral rights. Fortunately, we live in a country where you own your land. That distinguished us from the rest of the world. What happened, the state basically took the landowners’ rights away from them to (be able to) sell and process their mineral rights.
“I’ve probably done more for the environment in Garrett County when I was administrator putting in water and sewer systems, and to say Friendsville will have to pump water from Pennsylvania, where they have fracking, is kind of idiotic. It isn’t fracking that makes the difference, it’s horizontal drilling. We’ve been fracking in this country since 1949.”
The candidates were allowed to offer rebuttals.
DelMonte said people working fracking sites “tend to be there 18 months and make about $33,000.” He added that the “mortality is eight times the national level. They die from working on these pipelines.”
After Walker reiterated her statement, Buckel spoke next.
“There are 50 states in the U.S. and somewhere around 30-some that have the shale formations,” said Buckel. “Two have banned it, New York and Maryland … the most left wing states ruled by the urban elite. It is ridiculous to suggest, if it caused the problems they say, we’d see it on the news every night. I am far more concerned with putting people to work in the trades at Allegany and Garrett counties than the people from Potomac and their multi-million-dollar mansions at Deep Creek Lake.”
Driesbach also offered a rebuttal.
“This whole fracking thing boiled down to there are people at this table who had a self-interest to make a whole lot of money out of it. What really burns my butt is they were going to destroy the tourism industry that we really draw from up here. There were a whole lot of bills initiated at the same period time when we were fighting this thing, some were ridiculous. It was an economic thing and it boiled down to the tourism industry and our counties won on this one.”
Beitzel went last.
“Where would this country be if we didn’t have cheap energy?” said Beitzel. “If every state was like Maryland and New York state and ban fracking, where would we be? It isn’t fracking, it is really the process after horizontal drilling to enable us to remove energy from tight spots.
“We are the number one world producer in oil and in natural gas again. Just with what’s going on in the Middle East, they are talking about $200 a barrel. If it’s $200 a barrel there won’t be much tourism at Deep Creek Lake because they couldn’t afford to drive their cars to get there.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.
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