Bryan P. Sears//Daily Record Business Writer//April 13, 2014
//Daily Record Business Writer
//April 13, 2014
A looming deadline for a state report on Marcellus Shale drilling should be pushed back, according to environmental activists and members of a state commission tasked with studying the issue.
The Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission is scheduled to meet Monday morning. With 110 days left before an Aug. 1 deadline, some say the commission needs more time to complete its work.
“I think a delay is justified and reasonable given that they are behind on things like the risk analysis,” said Tommy Landers, policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Everything is supposed to be done by Aug. 1. It’s a little hard to imagine that happening.”
The commission already sought and received one extension from Gov. Martin O’Malley on delivering a draft report of proposed best management practices for the controversial natural gas drilling process commonly known as fracking.
That report was due to be released for public comment last December but was released earlier this year. The commission will discuss potential changes to the report during its Monday meeting.
The governor and General Assembly have been awaiting the panel’s report before deciding whether to allow fracking in the state and, if so, how to regulate it.
The commission still needs to complete economic, health and risk assessment studies, release those for public comment and potentially revise them all before combining the information into one report.
Not everyone is convinced that can be accomplished within the timeline given under the executive order issued by O’Malley when the group was created nearly three years ago.
“I’d be surprised if we’re not pushed into the fall,” said Stephen M. Bunker, a member of the commission.
Bunker said the delay “is not a big deal” but is probably necessary in order to ensure the commission can fully evaluate all of the information before compiling a final report.
“We have a lot to do,” Bunker said.
Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Western Maryland, said he believes the commission can complete its work in the original time allotted.
“We should be able to do it,” said Edwards, who is a member of the commission. “We’ve got a lot of groups doing different studies.”
Edwards said many of these studies can pull from information compiled from drilling activities in neighboring states.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here,” Edwards said. “I don’t know that the geography and topography will be any different here than it is in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
David Vanko, dean of the Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics and chair of the commission, said a short delay will be discussed at the meeting.
“There’s a lot of interest and anxiety about this,” said Vanko, who is a geologist.
Vanko said some believe the commission is trying to accomplish too much too fast while others think the commission’s work is taking too long.
“There are two really good sides to this issue,” Vanko said.
In the end, Vanko said, a short delay is the likely result of the discussion Monday.
“I’d think September or October is reasonable,” Vanko said.
Nina Smith, an O’Malley spokeswoman, said the governor “is optimistic” and the Aug. 1 deadline will be met but isn’t concerned about a potential delay.
“Should the deadline slip, a few weeks or months delay is acceptable,” Smith wrote in an email response to questions.i