General Assembly approves land men registration

ANNAPOLIS — The natural gas industry’s middlemen will have to register with the state before negotiating land leases under legislation approved by the General Assembly this week.

Senate Bill 766 was passed Thursday by the House of Delegates 138-0 after being approved by the Senate 47-0 last month.

A similar bill, also sponsored by Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Western Maryland, failed last year. But Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission recommended the legislation be passed in 2013.

The commission is studying hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, which is a controversial natural gas drilling technique used to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale rock formation. The rock runs a mile beneath much of Garrett County and a sliver of Allegany County, as well as through much of northeast United States.

The middlemen, called land men by the natural gas industry, negotiate lease deals between property owners and natural gas companies seeking the right to drill for gas. In Maryland, those deals have often been for well below market value.

Many leases have been allowed to expire as Maryland lawmakers and regulators try to decide whether to issue drilling permits. Legislation that would have enacted a moratorium failed this year.

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