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Bill to ban fracking killed by Senate committee

A natural gas well site in Burlington, Pa. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)

Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling technique colloquially called fracking, will not face a ban in Maryland.

Senate Bill 514, the ban legislation, was voted down by the the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon, according to several sources. A companion bill in the House of Delegates, H.B. 337, is still scheduled for a hearing on Friday — but with the Senate bill already killed, further action would appear unlikely.

The bills, introduced by Sen. Karen S. Montgomery and Del. A. Shane Robinson, both Montgomery County Democrats, went a step further than legislation backed by Del. Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, and others, which would impose a drilling moratorium until safety and environmental impact studies are completed. The bill states that, pending those results, fracking could only happen if the General Assembly gave regulators the OK.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, made clear in January that he felt a fracking ban was a bad idea, but would be OK with a moratorium, which could be lifted pending study results. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate environment committee, has repeatedly turned away anti-fracking legislation introduced in recent years.

Fracking is hotly debated due to potentially adverse environmental impacts associated with blasting a water and chemical mixture a mile underground, fracturing and releasing gas in the Marcellus Shale rock formation that runs under much of Western Maryland are other parts of the northeast United States.

Despite the risk, the economic impacts could be great, some say, with landowners receiving leasing fees from natural gas companies and locals getting jobs at drilling sites. Natural gas companies began leasing land as early as 2005 in Garrett County, but those companies have allowed many of those contracts to lapse as the regulatory environment in Maryland stays uncertain.