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Two Montgomery County lawmakers are proposing an outright ban on drilling for natural gas in Western Maryland through the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Del. Shane Robinson (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village and Sen. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) of Brookville are going beyond a proposal by colleague Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park to impose a moratorium on fracking until studies are done on public health and environmental effects of fracking, a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to release the natural gas from rock formations.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) included $1.5 million in his proposed budget to undertake such studies, giving some hope that drilling permits might be issued sometime in the future.

Robinson’s and Montgomery’s bill would ban fracking outright.

“We have a lot of good brains working on solving the engineering problems of fracking,” Robinson said, referencing issues of the amount of wastewater produced, as well as reports of methane gas leaking into the air during the drilling process. Robinson said such efforts should be redirected toward development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

“Eventually we’re going to need to solve the true energy problems that this state has,” he said. “We could better use all the brain capital we’re using to solve this problem that is only going to yield a fraction of the solution.”

Maryland’s portion of the Marcellus Shale formation, in Garrett and Allegany counties, holds between 1 percent and 2 percent of the vast natural gas deposits in the formation, which runs under the Appalachian Mountains from New York to Virginia.

hnunn@gazette.net