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Poll: Study of fracking is needed

ANNAPOLIS — More than 70 percent of Marylanders want a controversial natural gas drilling technique to be studied before it is allowed in Western Maryland, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The poll, commissioned by Chesapeake Climate Action, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting global warming, found that 71 percent of those surveyed supported such a study.

It also showed that 65 percent of people living in Western Maryland supported a study to determine “best practices” for hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — which involves drilling into the Marcellus Shale, a rock-encased deposit of natural gas that runs about one mile deep under much of Garret County and a sliver of Allegany County.

The poll showed that 81 percent of those surveyed believed oil companies should pay for the study, rather than Maryland taxpayers.

Fracking has been linked to flammable drinking water and earthquakes in other states, including Pennsylvania. It has also been connected to global warming, as methane gas is released into the atmosphere in the course of drilling.

“These numbers just speak for themselves,” said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action. “This is the people of Maryland speaking.”

HB 1204, which passed in the House of Delegates last week, would force gas companies to pay for the study through a $15 fee attached to land they have already leased in Western Maryland. The study would cost about $2 million.

Similar legislation in the Senate, SB 798, sponsored by Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, has yet to be voted out of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Frosh said last week that he thought the legislation would pass if it moved to the chamber floor.

Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, the House bill’s sponsor, said the poll showed there was broad support for a study among Marylanders, regardless of their geography or politics.

“This poll confirms what I’ve heard … from Baltimore to Deep Creek Lake,” Mizeur said. The studies would give Maryland “peace of mind” before any drilling began.

Mizeur said she was hopeful the Senate would follow the House’s lead and pass the legislation, but added she was “not taking anything for granted.” Similar legislation failed there last year.

Among those surveyed, 14 percent said studies should not be conducted, 6 percent said hydraulic fracturing should not be allowed at all, and 9 percent were not sure.

The majority of Republicans and Democrats were in favor of a study, with 67 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats in favor.

The poll, conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, had pollsters call 601 randomly-selected registered Maryland voters on the telephone between March 16 and 19. The poll has a sampling error of plus-or-minus 4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.