FROSTBURG — Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas could create as many as 3,600 jobs in far western Maryland in the next decade if state officials allow energy companies to use the extraction technique, according to a Towson University study commissioned by the state.
The boom would end in the late 2020s, though, and could leave Garrett and Allegany counties less appealing to the tourists and vacation-home buyers who are important contributors to the area’s economy, especially near Deep Creek Lake, the study’s leader told a state panel Friday.
“Both counties would experience an economic boom, then bust,” Daraius Irani, executive director of Towson’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, told the commission charged with developing recommendations for safe drilling in Maryland’s portion of the Marcellus shale. The gas-rich rock formation runs beneath parts of at least six states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where companies have been injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals underground for years to fracture the shale and release the gas.
Questions about the technique’s environmental impact prompted Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2011 to establish the commission. Its final report is due in August, but might be delayed until later in the year, said Chairman David Vanko, a Towson University geologist.
Irani said the number of drilling-related jobs could exceed 3,000 by 2019 if gas drilling begins in 2017 and companies seek to extract 75 percent of the state’s estimated reserves. He said employment could peak around 3,600 in 2021, and then drop off sharply after 2025.
An alternate scenario, with a 25 percent extraction rate, projects a peak of about 1,800 jobs.
Irani said he couldn’t predict the impact of drilling on tourism because virtually every such study elsewhere was conducted during the recession, when gas drilling was booming. Because economic downtowns negatively affect tourism, the researchers couldn’t attribute any negative tourism effects to gas drilling alone.
He urged the commissioners to consider that gas drilling might hurt the region’s tourism appeal.
“One of the challenges is, once an area is sort of not perceived as a good tourism area, it’s kind of hard to get it back up,” he said.