Bills Call for Moratorium on Fracking in Maryland

"Don't Frack Maryland" Rally outside Statehouse in Annapolis, March 3
“Don’t Frack Maryland” Rally outside Statehouse in Annapolis, March 3/Photo Chesapeake Climate Action Network, flickr
Environmental groups want more research on effects

By Sarah Fleischman, Calvert Recorder

After the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s reports to satisfy then-Gov. Martin O’Malley’s executive order, the only bills related to hydraulic fracturing during this year’s state legislative session are anti-fracking, while environmentalists say there is a “notable absence” of legislation to allow fracking in Maryland.

Four bills, one of which is backed by a coalition of more than 100 environmental groups, seek to put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until further study can be done. Bolstered by the fracking ban in New York state, where the New York Department of Health did a six-year public health study before the ban, Senate Bill 409 and House Bill 449 would require a team to evaluate research currently underway by the National Institute of Health, looking into the specific public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, including cancer and birth defects, said Shilpa Joshi, Maryland campaign coordinator with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Delegate David Fraser of Hidalgo speak at "Don't Frack Maryland" Rally/Photo Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Delegate David Fraser of Hidalgo speak at “Don’t Frack Maryland” Rally/Photo Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The previously-established moratorium on hydraulic fracturing statewide ended when O’Malley (D) left office earlier this year, Joshi said. The potential for fracking in Western Maryland prompted O’Malley to issue an executive order, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, in 2011, which mandated the formation of the former governor’s Shale Advisory Commission and multiple state reports on the impacts of fracking and recommended best practices.

“We are currently in a world in Maryland where we can determine our future in fracking,” Joshi said.

The Senate bill has 12 sponsors and the House bill has 41 sponsors, the most support CCAN has ever received from a fracking moratorium bill, Joshi said.

But Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, said the Maryland Department of the Environment can move forward with the regulations submitted by the O’Malley administration, which is why there isn’t any legislation countering the ban or “de facto ban bills” already submitted this legislative session.

The Maryland Petroleum Council opposes the moratorium bills, Cobbs said.

“We’ve studied this for three and a half years,” Cobb said.

Even if MDE were to allow permits with the regulations submitted by the O’Malley administration, Cobbs said fracking in Maryland would not happen anytime soon, as the regulatory process would take a minimum of three or four years to get through.

Other bills that have been submitted are in regard to the storage and disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing.

One of the bills, House Bill 458, is the same bill that has been submitted four years in a row to prohibit the storage of fracking wastewater in the state. The wastewater from fracking contains chemicals such as benzene and radon, but the exact amounts are unknown because it is considered a trade secret, said Mitch Jones, common resources program director for Food and Water Watch. Last year, this bill was struck down in committee with an 11-13 vote.

“I think we have a fair shot of getting it out of committee this year,” Jones said.

House Bill 952 is a chemical disclosure bill. There is vague knowledge of what is contained in fracking wastewater, Jones said.

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