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Fracking mortatorium bill fails in Senate committee

An attempt to delay and potentially ban a controversial natural gas drilling technique failed Wednesday when a Senate committee voted against allowing the full Senate to debate the legislation.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is heralded for its potential economic impact and criticized for potential environmental impacts. The state is currently operating under a de-facto moratorium while a task force convened by Gov. Martin O’Malley studies fracking’s safety.

But legislation sponsored by Del. Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, and others, sought to give that moratorium force of law, and allow the General Assembly and state regulators — once studies are completed — to make the final decision on whether fracking should be allowed in Western Maryland, where rock-encased gas called Marcellus Shale runs a mile below much of Garrett County and part of Allegany county.

A 6-5 vote in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee effectively ends consideration of Senate Bill 601 and House Bill 1274 during this session of the legislature.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, and supporter of hydraulic fracturing, has chosen to leave fracking-related bills in a committee drawer rather than calling them for a vote in recent years. But SB 601 is the second fracking bill she’s called for a vote this week — both have failed to receive a majority of the panel’s approval.

O’Malley has included $1.5 million in his budget proposal this year to pay for fracking studies. The House of Delegates will begin making decisions on the governor’s proposal on Friday.