Chesapeake Bay Doing Better, Despite Fractivist Claims

FractivistsK.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  


Fracking operations in Pennsylvania are often cited as a cause of degradation to the Chesapeake Bay; however, the Bay is improving and we’re still fracking.

One of my favorite times of year is the beginning of summer in Maryland. While the weather ranges from freezing cold to scorching hot every day, watermen become more and more active on the Chesapeake Bay. Their daily hauls of blue crabs are what put Maryland on the map. After all, you never order a Delaware crab cake.

The Chesapeake Bay is a great place to fish, crab or just boat. I love going out on the water and seeing how large of a rockfish I can net, or claim to net. The bay is on a rebound as of late, too. Crabs, rockfish and anchovies are at their highest measurement in over a decade.

Chesapeake Bay Blue CrabThe Bay’s report card issued by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science shows modest gains in health. This is also a pat on the back for natural gas. What in the world could natural gas be doing to help the bay? Well, the better question is why is the bay improving while we are still fracking? Let me explain.

The Chesapeake Bay’s primary fresh water source comes from the Susquehanna River. Starting in Cooperstown, New York, the river winds 464 miles all the way through Pennsylvania down into the Bay. It provides drinking water to millions of residents and has been called endangered over and over again. Many groups over the past few years have used the river as a pawn to protest fracking and natural gas. They have claimed well pads are reducing forest lines, that fracking operations are using more water than the river can tolerate and, of course, that the drilling operations are releasing nitrogen and phosphorus into the river.

The Chesapeake Bay’s main sources of pollution are, in fact, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients lead to algae growth that deplete oxygen levels and create dead zones in the bay. This is, clearly, a real concern. According to StormWater PA, the Susquehanna River delivers 21% of the phosphorus and 40% of the nitrogen found in the bay. It also says:

“In an average year, more than 60 percent of the phosphorus and 85 percent of the nitrogen found in the Susquehanna can be traced to non-point sources of pollution, such as agricultural and urban runoff. While agricultural pollution still contributes the highest percentage of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Susquehanna and to the Chesapeake Bay.”

In addition to the agricultural contributions, you also have pet waste. Living on the Severn River, another Bay feeder, I’ve learned pet waste can make up to 68% of the river’s bacterial and nutrient pollutions. Several times since I have lived in Maryland, a water warning has been in effect.

Susquehanna River Feeds Chesapeake Bay The claim that fracking and natural gas operation throughout the region is hurting the river is wishful thinking on the part of fractivists, though. American Rivers, funded by many of the same people who fund other fractivist initiatives, targeted the Susquehanna as the Most Endangered River in 2011. As NaturalGasNow recently noted, though, the label is complete hype, the river somehow not even being a contender the following. How can the river go from No. 1 to not even being listed among the Top 10 in the space of a year when natural gas operations continue?

There is no correlation or cause and effect. If the natural gas industry were leading the pollution charges, it would have gotten worse, not better. But, it has gotten better, not only as reflected in this latest report but also in macroinvertebrate studies showing no significant difference between sites with zero gas wells and others with gas well development at rates of up to 3.7 wells per square mile. To know the bay is recovering, albeit slowly, is a sign that the Susquehanna is recovering, which is good news for everyone, and fracking is no threat and never has been.

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3 thoughts on “Chesapeake Bay Doing Better, Despite Fractivist Claims

  1. Nice article, K.J. I love Maryland, lived there lots of years, sailed the Chesapeake, learned how to pick crabs (the first time I saw a pile of them poured onto a brown paper covered table, I was shocked. I thought they were still muddy!
    Yeah, the fractivists run around crying wolf at every turn, only to be proven wrong just about every time.
    BTW, they’ve got Phillip’s crab at Costco out here in Colorado!


    Well I have not listened to this report which is about Maryland ‘s recent staggeringly surprising decision to pass a law banning fracking making some people unhappy but it seems to me that it is a gross mistake to say this was a matter of environmental concerns coming before economic ones. It seems much more accurate to say this was a decision and law passed under the unfluence of politics who have caught frack fever.

    Correct me if I am wrong but is there a state where getting coal is banned? There are three in the united States, two which achieved this by law banning fracking for natural gas and only one with natural gas, Maryland?

    So what happened between the fall of 2014 when then democratic governor O’Malley seemed ready to allow fracking under certain regulations and this spring in 2017 when a republican governor signed a bill banning fracking?

    Lots of things right? One important thing was the NY State decision on fracking in late 2014 and there was no repercussion for this decision whether political or otherwise. Another might be the fact that the Bernie Sanders faction in the democratic party attempted to get a ban on fracking on the democratic platform in the presidential election and the press slept through this.

    Isn’t there a concentration of press in new york? They haven’t noticed that NY State has increased it’s use of natural gas because of environmental benefits it provides over other fossil fuels while banning fracking? Is this because they don’t understand energy issues? Seems like it to me.

    Do most Maryland citizens think that natural gas is the worst fossil fuel now as the antifracking movement says? Why aren’t they concerned about what happened with this fracking ban?

  3. I live in a different basin to the north (Seneca Lake’s), but have a particular insight that likely pertains to the Susquehanna Basin also: I know a guy whose job all winter is to drive a truck to haul dairy cow manure and spread it on frozen fields. And he’s only one of several at just one large dairy farm!

    Of course, that is just inviting it to also be in the next spring runoff, and contribute to nutrient pollution and subsequent algae-blooms that are becoming common in Seneca Lake!

    And guess what: Sampling to study nutrient-inputs has shown that most contaminating nutrients arrive in the big-rainfall events, apparently from farmland runoff!

    Until the most outrageously-polluting dairy-farm practices are changed (they’ll probably have to actually be regulated and have penalties, just like the rest of “industry”), don’t expect improvement.

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