- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Up until now, for people living in Southern Maryland, fracking was someone else’s problem, or opportunity, depending on the point of view.
But with the release of a U.S. Geological Survey report, fracking becomes a possibility in Calvert County and throughout Southern Maryland.
Fracking is hydraulic fracturing to retrieve natural gas from deep underground. It has been under way for years in part of Pennsylvania. Energy companies drill wells into shale and inject water, chemicals and sand to crack the rock and release natural gas or oil.
Critics of fracking point to environmental and public health concerns, including contamination of aquifers and surface water, migration of methane gas into drinking water and problems with the disposal of the used fracking solution.
Up to now, this practice has been no closer than a neighboring state. That means that for most Southern Marylanders, it has been just one more debate about energy policy and the environment. Many might have barely heard of it. Those who have may have an opinion based largely on their political leanings on these sorts of issues. The time may come, however, when those of us who live here must take a hard, close look.
There’s no need to panic or choose sides just yet. For one thing, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has a standing executive order not to issue any permits for fracking. That prohibits it while a commission studies the benefits and dangers. Meanwhile, a legislator from Montgomery County is planning to introduce a bill next winter to outright ban fracking in the state.
And the potential to mine natural gas in Southern Maryland hasn’t been fully assessed. The U.S. Geological Survey identified 14 basins along the East Coast that could yield natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. The USGS developed estimates for supplies of gas in five of them. In nine others it said gas was likely but there wasn’t enough data to estimate how much.
St. Mary’s County is in the Delmarva basin, which extends across the Chesapeake Bay and through parts of the Eastern Shore. The USGS figures it likely contains some amount of natural gas but has no firm guess how much. North of St. Mary’s, the Taylorsville basin covers much of Charles and Prince George’s County and runs under the Potomac River through some of Virginia. The USGS estimates it contains a little more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s a big number, but a fraction of the 84 trillion cubic feet in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania where fracking is currently under way.
However, a research geologist with the USGS says most of the oil and gas industry is already aware of the potential in these basins. So it is time to pay attention to the fracking debate.
It could be years or decades before the gas industry wants to start drilling in Southern Maryland. It could be never. But if the energy companies do come calling here, what will be at stake is not just a quick payday for some property owners who sell mineral rights. There must also be certainty that the aquifers that supply the drinking water for all of us will be protected from contamination.