A $5 per acre fee on land that oil and gas companies leased from homeowners to pay for a commission to study drilling impacts was proposed in legislation, but it was voted down. At the time, natural gas exploration was still booming, and at least two companies were seeking permits. But the companies pulled out of the lease contracts, taking away the funding.
The state environment department did manage to produce one study, published last year in December, with seven recommendations on how to draft a policy to protect landowners from possible contamination, said Brigid Kenney, a senior policy adviser for MDE who focuses on the Marcellus.
A second report on best practices for shale drilling in five states is nearly completed, Kenney said, and a third report on the positive and negative impacts of drilling in the shale is expected in August.
The first study was pulled together by MDE staff, and the second is being performed by a University of Maryland Center for Environment Science professor under a $183,000 contract.
“To say the study hasn’t gotten underway would be inaccurate,” Kenney said.
But to say that those studies are what O’Malley intended would also be inaccurate, said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of several environmental activist organizations that sponsored Saturday’s conference.
“It’s my understanding that they’re doing something like a literature review of what others have said about fracking in other states. We understood the order was to have serious studies that are Maryland-specific.
“I think the governor assumed that by 2013 this would have been funded, and this would’ve been done,” Tidwell said.
In Garrett County, where residents lost potential income when oil companies tired of Maryland’s delays and took their operations elsewhere, Commissioner Jim Raley (R) said everyone should put aside their differences and negotiate.
“I believe the analysis should be done,” Raley said. “It really comes down to the issue of fracking, can it be done in a safe and prudent manner. But if the state can benefit from it, the industry can benefit, and the county can benefit, maybe . . . we each should fund it.”