Updated: Feb. 25, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.
A new poll suggests more than three-quarters of Maryland residents want the General Assembly to ensure studies are completed before hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is allowed in the state.
But those asked did not agree on who they would trust to make the final decision on whether to allow fracking, according to the poll commissioned by environmental advocacy group Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
While 78 percent of the 800 randomly-selected registered voters polled by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks said the legislature should require environmental and safety studies before fracking is allowed, only 48 percent said the government should make the final decision, followed by environmental groups (31 percent) and oil and gas companies (9 percent).
A task force convened by Gov. Martin O’Malley is already studying fracking and there is a de-facto moratorium on issuing drilling permits to energy companies. But some state lawmakers — led by Del. Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County — want to give the moratorium force of law.
“Marylanders expect us to be pragmatic in our approach,” Mizeur said.
A bill that would do that, S.B. 601, is slated for a hearing in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
The poll, conducted via telephone between Dec. 28 and Jan. 2, has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percent. Proponents of fracking, a controversial drilling technique through which a water and chemical mixture is blasted a mile deep to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale rock formation, say it represents a potential economic windfall for areas in Western Maryland. Critics worry about the environmental risks inherent in natural gas drilling.
“There is a lot of smoke,” Zirkin said. “And some of us believe, fire.”
O’Malley included $1.5 million in his budget proposal this year that would pay for the continued study of fracking. But Mizeur reiterated Monday that studies could raise more questions than they answer, forcing further study.
“It’s not going to be the full amount of money needed,” she said.