Poll: Majority oppose fracking; lawmakers say regulations too strict for fracking to occur
By David Collins, WBALTV
Given the latest public opinion polling, current regulations and new legislation at the moment, fracking may not stand a chance in Maryland.
According to a new Goucher College poll released Wednesday, 45 percent of those polled oppose the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale deposits, a process called fracking. Thirty-six percent said they support fracking and 19 percent said they weren’t sure or didn’t have an answer.
Flammable water, mini earthquakes and health problems allegedly occurring in other states fuels concern about allowing fracking in Maryland.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Bobby Zirkin has introduced a bill to hold fracking companies responsible and accountable for any damage done during the process. A hearing on the bill took place Wednesday in Annapolis.
“This bill, in a broad sense, puts all the little tricks the companies — the oil and gas companies — have employed around the country to absolve themselves of responsibility and puts the kibosh on it,” Zirkin said.
The bill would establish a strict liability standard by removing the legal defense that the company acted in compliance with industry standards. There is a rebuttable presumption clause which means the company has to prove it didn’t cause damage.
The bill also awards triple damages for gross negligence or wanton misconduct. The legislation requires the company to increase insurance coverage per person, property and the environment.
If legal action is taken, information about the chemicals used in the process — currently a trade secret — could be used as evidence.
“It’s all about making sure that, from a legal standpoint, they cannot run away from responsibility,” Zirkin said.
Marcellus Shale is underneath much of western Maryland. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley commissioned a study that recommends drilling but the regulations are the most restrictive in the country.
Drilling is prohibited within 2,000 feet of private or public water sources, historic places or environmentally sensitive areas.
“There appears to be an attempt to make the regulations so restrictive that the regulations themselves would be a ban against drilling,” said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Allegany and Garrett counties.
“If this is a de facto ban on fracking, then so be it,” Zirkin said.
Fracking is backed by a Garrett County citizen group, the County Commissioners and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. It’s viewed as a source for revenue, jobs and energy.
Gov. Larry Hogan said the state should move forward with fracking if it can be done in an environmentally safe way.