By Mike Mathews
CUMBERLAND — Those cautious about the use of hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas in Western Maryland and others who believe drilling should go forward soon may fight it out for votes in the General Assembly this year on legislation that could determine the time frame for fracking to occur in Maryland.
On Monday, right after the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission met in Annapolis, a group of legislators and their supporters rallied in favor of a legislative moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Among others, Delegate Heather Mizeur, a member of the commission, is a sponsor of the legislative moratorium.
Sen. George Edwards, also a member of the commission, believes the proposed legislative moratorium is a delaying tactic.
“I basically believe they don’t want us to drill,” Edwards said. “I’ll do what I can to get it killed, we don’t need it,” Edwards said.
Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the commission, said it’s a matter of common sense.
“I feel it’s a common sense approach; until the industry can show the practice will not harm the water and air and be done safely for humans and the environment,” Roberts said. The proposed legislation will set requirements for the industry to meet before fracking can begin, Roberts said.
Edwards said an effective moratorium already exists since drilling can’t occur until the advisory commission finishes its work in 2014. All the studies needed should be accomplished by then, Edwards said. Edwards believes most of the scientific and safety questions have been answered because of studies in states where drilling is already occurring. “Everyone wants it done right,” Edwards said.
“All I’m saying is you’ve got an industry with these sorts of problems ... you can’t go forward without being sure,” Roberts said, citing failure rates of the casings around well bores in Pennsylvania. Roberts said he does not favor a permanent ban on fracking, which has been proposed.
Commission members taking a stand on legislation proposals not coming from the advisory group also concerned Edwards.
“I think it’s kind of out of line... . If they don’t think the commission is doing its job, they should come out in front of the other members and say so,” Edwards said.
Roberts said that because the effective moratorium is based only on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2011 executive order, the industry could mount a court challenge by saying the state has no legal authority to stop immediate drilling. Edwards said he doubted any company would think the costs of such a suit and chances of success were worth pursuing.
Roberts is a founder of Citizen Shale and a Garrett County winery owner.
Marcellus Shale formations throughout the eastern U.S. harbor large untapped natural gas resources.
The state moratorium bill, to be introduced by Mizeur in the House of Delegates and others in the Senate, would prevent fracking from occurring in Maryland until the state completes the series of 14 studies laid out in O’Malley’s executive order on gas drilling, which also established the advisory commission.
O’Malley’s timetable calls for a final advisory commission report due in 2014; until then, no permits will be issued for drilling Marcellus Shale in the state.
For more information on the advisory commission and hydraulic fracturing, visit www.mde.state.md.us/programs/land/mining/marcellus/pages/commission.aspx.
Citizen Shale’s website is citizenshale.org.
For a pro-industry perspective, visit marcelluscoa-lition.org.
Contact Matthew Bieniek at email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.