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Gas drilling moratorium fails in General Assembly

ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would have imposed a two-year moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation while an environmental impact study was completely stalled in the Senate this legislative session after easily passing the House.

It is unclear how heavily the bill’s failure will actually affect drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation via hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” since a hold has already been unofficially placed on drilling there.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has been holding permit applications for drilling since October 2009, citing potential environmental effects. Those applications for fracking were the first filed in the state.

The Department of the Environment is not expected to approve the applications without Gov. Martin O’Malley’s approval. O’Malley has said he wants a thorough study before fracking begins.

The Marcellus Shale formation runs under Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, West Virginia and a small part of Maryland, among other states. The formation is thought to contain the largest natural gas store in the United States and is located about a mile below the surface.

The bill’s language would have forced companies that want to drill into the formation to pay for the environmental study.

“By not passing the bill what is not going to happen is a comprehensive bill,” said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Industry had agreed to pay a study for $1.2 to $1.5 million. Without the bill, the study won’t happen but the administration will be doing a much smaller study.”

Del. Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett, fought to oppose the moratorium bill in the House and watched his own pro-drilling bill die in committee. He sent a letter to the governor Tuesday asking him to allow drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, which houses natural gas.

“I think this has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the region I represent and also a positive impact to improve this state’s energy needs,” Beitzel said.

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