Fracking in Maryland: Still under study

With AFP Story by Veronique DUPONT: US-Energy-Gas-Environment Workers change pipes at Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring Marcellus Shale. ( MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

The de facto moratorium on fracking in Maryland seems likely to continue into 2014.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has included $1.5 million in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year for a study of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

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But even if the legislature approves the funding, it appears unlikely that the study would produce conclusive results this year. And a spokesperson for O’Malley said that he isn’t planning to propose any other legislation on fracking this legislative session.

At a hearing Thursday at the House of Delegates’ Environmental Matters Committee, state Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers said that while “it’s not theoretically impossible” that the study would produce conclusive findings by an August 2014 deadline, it might lead only to more studies.

“In the course of the study we may discover more that we need to look at,” he said.

Starting in 2009, four companies filed for permits to frack in Western Maryland, a process which uses high water pressure to split gas-bearing Marcellus shale rock deep below the earth’s surface. All four companies have since withdrawn their requests.

In 2011, citing concerns about fracking’s “impact on public health,” O’Malley issued an executive order creating a “Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative,” an advisory council that would study the “short-term, long-term and cumulative” effects of the process.

O’Malley’s executive order did not ban fracking, but the Department of the Environment has opted to wait until the study is completed to issue permits for drilling. However, legislation requiring the gas companies to pay for the study through leasing fees failed to make it through the state Senate last year.

Del. Heather Mizeur (D- Montgomery County) calls the current situation a “de facto moratorium,” and she wants to make it official. Mizeur has said that she will introduce legislation this year that would ban the drilling process “until studies are concluded showing that it can be done safely.”

Whatever the fate of Mizeur’s proposla, Summers said there are no active applications for permits to frack right now. Also, he said, the type of “dry gas” fracking possible in Maryland is not as much in demand as it once was.

“Initially [gas companies] were drilling everywhere they could andMaryland very prudently said ‘Wait a minute! We need to work out the details and make sure this can be done safely’ and in the meantime the industry shifted its focus to the wet gas areas in the west. They’re in Ohio, they’re in western Pennsylvania.”

However, he added, “They’ll be back.”

 
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