A Montgomery County, MD, state delegate has announced she will introduce legislation next year to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in Maryland until comprehensive studies prove the practice is safe.
No fracking has occurred in Maryland, which has a small slice of the Marcellus Shale gas formation in Garrett and Allegany counties. In 2011, Gov. Martin O'Malley established a special commission, which included scientists, politicians and citizens from Western Maryland, to study the issue and report back to the governor. During the study period, which was expected to take three years, the state would not allow fracking, unless the drilling was experimental as part of the study.
But Del. Heather Mizeur, a Democrat who represents Tacoma Park and Silver Spring, said the powerful gas lobby has blocked funding for meaningful studies. They have balked at paying for the studies through a drilling tax, and the cash-strapped state can't afford the money itself.
As a result, she says, the commission can't do its job. Mizeur, a member of the commission, said that she is worried that without the studies, the state will wait the three years and could be forced to allow fracking.
Mizeur said that she believes the current de facto moratorium does not protect the state from drillers who could file lawsuits to force the state to issue permits. And it's unknown what the state's political landscape will be in two or three years.
"Is my proposal a radical step? Not at all. A state-level moratorium is a reasonable, methodical and thoughtful approach," Mizeur wrote in a September Baltimore Sun editorial. "What's radical is allowing a fossil fuel special interest to thrust upon us — without full democratic input — a drilling method that is associated with temblors and benzene-contaminated water in virtually every state where it's been tried."
At a news conference in Baltimore, several Pennsylvania residents who have lived alongside fracking spoke of the effects. Hydraulic fracturing requires millions of gallons of water to be drained from streams and injected into the ground to coax gas out of the shale formation. The water that comes back up is laced with chemicals that further lubicate the rock and help to bring the gas up.
Activities related to fracking have caused problems in Pennsylvania. The water withdrawals have altered fish habitats, and fracking fluid spills have led to fish kills. Faulty casings on some of the wells have led to methane-contaminated drinking water. There have been reports of stomach illnesses, dying livestock and out-of-control fires in communities with heavy drilling activity.
While Pennsylvania welcomed drillers, New York put a moratorium on drilling, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to lift it. Fracking proponents argue that the gas industry brings jobs and money into struggling towns.
More than a dozen environmental groups endorsed Mizeur's proposal.
Tommy Landers, executive director of Environment Maryland, predicted the fracking ban will be a major issue on the environmental agenda next year. Even with the de facto ban, Landers said, he's concerned that so many parcels of land in Garrett County are already being leased to the gas companies.
"The wave that's hit New York and Pennsylvania is hitting in Maryland. A lot of companies want to lay their claim," Landers said. "We have to discuss what rules make sense here, but our main things is, we don't want to see any fracking."