After the General Assembly failed to pass a bill imposing a moratorium on drilling for natural gas in Western Maryland’s portion of the Marcellus Shale, Gov. Martin O’Malley imposed a de facto halt to the efforts Monday when he issued an executive order calling for a study that will take up to three years to complete.
O’Malley established the “Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative” with the executive order and tasked the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources with setting up the commission to look at all aspects of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the Maryland portion of the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich area that lies under a large area of the northeastern U.S.
The study will also include a review of available results from studies on the issue being done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy, the State of New York, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, among others.
The makeup of the committee will include: “an expert on geology or natural gas production from a college or university; a private citizen from Western Maryland; representatives from the gas industry and an environmental organization; and representatives from Western Maryland local governments and business,” according to a news release.
“While we are mindful of the potential economic and energy benefits that could arise from the production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale reserves in Maryland, we are also very concerned about an array of issues that have been raised regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract this fuel,” O’Malley said in a statement.
“Our decisions must be guided by scientific knowledge about the effects of this type of drilling to ensure that we protect public safety and health, groundwater, surface water, and the rural lifestyle and natural resources in Maryland.”
The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves using high-pressure water to crack shale and release the natural gas. Opponents of fracking cite environmental concerns about contaminants that can get into drinking water.
The Maryland House of Delegates passed a moratorium bill — called the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Act of 2011 — on April 21 with a 98-40 vote. That bill however never got out of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The study will be conducted in three parts, with the first, a presentation of recommendations on potential revenue generating legislation, due by the end of 2011. The second, a look at best practices, is due by Aug. 1, 2012.
A final report, looking at the impact that drilling in the Marcellus Shale could have on groundwater and other environmental impacts, is to be issued no later than Aug. 1, 2014.
“Fortunately, Maryland is taking the time to ensure drilling occurs only after proper safeguards are in place. Given that our drinking water and other natural resources are at risk, and given Pennsylvania’s checkered experience with fracking, we applaud the Governor for his leadership on this issue. Maryland has the opportunity to get it right,” said Kim Coble, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in a statement.
In Pennsylvania, which has a large swath of the Marcellus Shale, Gov. Tom Corbett in March created a 30-member commission also tasked with balancing the economic potential with environmental concerns.