Maryland, USA, ready to start drafting fracking regulations

Flag of the state of Maryland, USA
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Last week, Maryland Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources, along with an appointed advisory commission, announced the completion of a three-part study on the risks of shale gas exploration in Maryland, USA.

The two departments were tasked with the preparation of the study by Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, which in turn was established in 2011 by Governor Martin O’Malley. The completion of the study means that work can commence on drafting regulations concerning shale exploration in the state of Maryland.

While the supply of shale gas in Western Maryland is expected to last only a few years, according to the report, the regulations would also apply to other areas of the state. Maryland comprises one per cent of the massive Marcellus formation along with smaller basins underneath other portions of the state, including Southern Maryland.

Regulations drafted would not be adopted or effective until the beginning of next year at the earliest, Brigid Kenney, senior policy adviser for MDE told SoMD News. The adoption of regulations is an executive function. Although the regulations will be submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, there will be a public comment period, and the committee can review the regulations and ask for discussions and hearings, Kenney said.

The report contains recommendations for updating the regulations, strengthening enforcement provisions, and passing a state severance tax. The tax would be deposited into a shale gas impact fund to be used for continual monitoring and addressing of the impacts of gas production and exploration. Also, the report calls for the introduction of an act to protect the rights of surface owners.

On its release, the report came under criticism from several environmental groups.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, while acknowledging that “if fully implemented, many of these ‘best management practices’ would limit the harm already being inflicted nationwide by this controversial gas drilling practice,” remained unconvinced that fracking can be done with acceptable public health and environmental safety. Ultimately, Mr Tidwell believes that the safest strategy is not to drill at all.

Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, welcomed the fact that “the governor has decided to move forward after three and a half years,” but he also expressed concern that many of the best practices recommended in the report were “more theoretical than experiential.”

In the wording of the report, “the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level. (…) Some of the proposed best management practices have not been tested, and although we are confident that they will reduce the risks, some risks will remain, as is the case with all industrial activities. Best practices and rigorous monitoring, inspection and enforcement can reduce the risks to acceptable levels, but can not completely eliminate all the risks.”

Nick Weber, a member of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Advisory Committee, is among many who don’t not share the report’s confidence, feeling that it didn’t adequately incorporate risks or analyse them in relation to best practices.

The decision about how to proceed will ultimately be in the hands of Governor-elect Larry Hogan; something with which Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter is not altogether comfortable.

“The Maryland Governor, who touts himself as a progressive champion of the environment, cowardly announced right before the Thanksgiving holiday that Maryland will move forward with fracking,” Hauter said in a press release.

“He leaves control of fracking’s regulation in the hands of pro-fracking Governor-elect Larry Hogan, someone who sees fracking as a ‘goldmine’ for the state’s coffers. The fact that O’Malley is praising Maryland’s fracking rules as the strictest in the country means nothing considering Hogan will likely change the rules or dismantle them completely.”

Source: Southern Maryland Newspapers Online

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