Dominion Power's bid to build an export facility at Cove Point reflects a national trend. Fracking -- pumping liquid deep under ground to push out natural gas -- has been wildly successful despite controversy around the environmental effects of the practice. There's so much natural gas now, and recession-tempered demand in the U.S. is so low, that producers want to export, which has environmentalists worried.
"There is contamination of local drinking water, local ground water, there's a huge issue of what you do with waste," says Robin Broder, vice president of Potomac Riverkeeper, one of several Riverkeeper groups opposing the Cove Point plant.
They argue exports would reduce energy independence and raise domestic prices, but Broder's primary concern is that exports might encourage fracking in Pennsylvania, parts of Western Maryland, and Virginia in the Potomac Watershed.
"Demand on the gas would increase the drilling in some very marginal areas," says Broder. "Millions of people get their drinking water from the Potomac River."
Kevin Book, with ClearView Energy, says the environmental problems are solvable.
"All of these things can be addressed," says Book. "All of them imply a need for regulators and the industry to ensure best practices, but there's nothing to say they can't be addressed."
More questionable says Book is what exports would do to domestic natural gas prices.
"Natural gas has broken more hearts than anyone in America in a long time," he says. "What is being tested is the idea that fracking is so cheap and so easy that with any price increase, gas will come to the market and buffer that price increase."
He believes that indeed prices won't be affected. Regardless, he says, public concern is the determining factor of whether an export facility will be built. The more sensitive -- environmentally or politically -- a location is, the less likely any facility will be built there.