- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in Maryland until a full state-sponsored study of its impact is complete will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.
“We're calling the bluff on the industry’s cynical ploy to wait the clock out and hope they’ll get permits at the end of the day,” Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) said earlier this month.
“We are going to get this moratorium done in 2013,” Mizeur told more than 300 people Dec. 8 in Baltimore, in a keynote address at a conference on the risks of the controversial practice, which is also called “fracking.”
In Maryland and other states above the Marcellus Shale formation, gas companies want to be allowed to use fracking — which involves drilling underground thousands of feet, vertically and horizontally, then injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure — to fracture rock formations and release gas trapped between layers of rock.
The Baltimore conference was sponsored by a coalition of groups that oppose allowing companies to use the gas extraction process without research and safeguards designed to ensure the health and safety of Maryland’s residents, natural resources and economy.
The coalition includes the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Interfaith Power & Light, the Maryland Conference of the NAACP and Environment Maryland.
Gov. Martin O’Malley issued an executive order in June 2011 that required a detailed study on the impact of fracking and recommendations on how to protect Marylanders from its risks.
Under the order, the study is to be completed by August 2014.
One stage of the study is done, but a lack of funding has hampered completion of the rest. In the 2012 legislative session, a measure that would have paid for the study failed to go to vote in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Under the order, the advisory commission established to oversee the study and make recommendations expires in May 2015.
Mizeur, who serves on the commission, said she wants to make sure the gas industry is not able to undo the moratorium in court if it sues to overturn the executive order.
Meanwhile, an increased supply of natural gas has lowered gas prices and decreased pressure to undertake fracking in Maryland, which scientists estimate holds 1 percent of the Marcellus Shale’s natural gas.
“Obviously we want to keep the prospects of doing this one day in Maryland in our lifetime,” said Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, which lobbies for petroleum industry interests in Annapolis.
Seven applications for gas well drilling in Garrett and Allegany counties were submitted to the Maryland Department of Environment but have become inactive, and an application that was pending has been withdrawn, department spokesman Jay Apperson said.
Nonetheless, environmentalists, health workers and landowners on a panel at the Baltimore conference said they are concerned by stories from neighboring Pennsylvania, where few new safeguards were enacted before fracking began, of flammable tap water and rural serenity overrun by the traffic and the din of fracking operations.
They also are concerned about the potential toxic effects of the chemicals used in the process. Each side points to the findings in studies by an assortment of researchers to support their position.
“There is no hard scientific evidence that fracking is an immediate and irreversible risk to drinking water resources,” said Steve Everley, spokesman for Energy in Depth, an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
“When you frack for natural gas, you contribute also to climate change,” conference organizer Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said, adding that recent studies have indicated that greenhouse gases emitted by fracking “could be a bigger contributor to climate change than even coal.”