Prince George’s County, MD, is poised to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, more than a year before the scheduled end of a temporary statewide moratorium on the controversial drilling practice.
The County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, with one member absent, to amend the zoning code to prohibit “fracking,” as the technique is commonly known, anywhere within the largely suburban county bordering the District of Columbia.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III will sign the bill, and it will take effect immediately, his spokesman, Scott L. Peterson, said Thursday.
Though the Marcellus Shale deposits underlying Western Maryland are believed to hold the state’s most accessible natural gas, the rural southeastern corner of Prince George’s County sits atop a sizable reserve as well. The Taylorsville Basin, which stretches from near Richmond to Annapolis, is estimated to hold more than 500 billion cubic feet of gas.
The basin also underlies parts of Charles, Anne Arundel, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland. In Virginia, a Texas-based company has already leased more than 80,000 acres to drill for gas in the Taylorsville Basin.
The county’s ban comes after “months of citizen organizing, driven by concern for the county’s air and water quality, for real estate values and for the climate,” said Monique Sullivan, field director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Maryland lawmakers imposed a temporary moratorium on fracking in 2015, to give state regulators more time to review the environmental and health risks and devise regulations. That moratorium is set to expire in October 2017.
Fracking opponents hope to build on the Prince George’s vote to make the state’s ban permanent.
“The public health and environmental dangers of fracking are far too real,” said Martha Ainsworth, chair of the local Sierra Club group. “We cannot risk our and our children’s future by allowing this to happen in Prince George’s County.”
Prince George’s is the second most populous county in the state and the second to enact a fracking ban. Neighboring Montgomery, the most populous county, banned fracking under its zoning code in 2014, though it is not believed to have marketable gas reserves within its borders.
Activists say they believe gas exploration could be spurred in Prince George’s by the development of a liquefied natural gas export terminal in neighboring Calvert County. Dominion is converting its little-used import terminal at Cove Point on the Chesapeake Bay.
“Dominion’s Cove Point export facility… could create significant new demand for the gas industry to expand harmful fracking operations across the region,” Sullivan said. With a fracking ban about to take effect in Prince George’s, she added, “now it’s up to the General Assembly to protect all of Maryland.”