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Maryland Continues Study of Potential Marcellus Shale Production

Drilling for natural gas in Maryland's small portion of the Marcellus Shale is likely to have negative effects on air quality, while hydraulic fracturing would present a moderately high risk of public health consequences and earthquakes are considered a low likelihood, according to a report issued by University of Maryland researchers.

The assessments of potential health impacts "are not predictions that these effects will necessarily occur in Maryland, where regulation is likely to be stricter than in some states where UNGDP [unconventional natural gas development and production] is already under way," the researchers wrote in the 203-page report. "Rather, we provide assessments of the impacts that could occur and that need to be addressed by preventive public health measures if and when drilling is allowed."

Included in the study are 52 recommendations to address potential public health risks that could come with oil and gas production in the Marcellus Shale.

The study was presented to the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission (MSSDIAC) Monday. The state's Environmental Health Bureau is seeking public comment on the report, which is scheduled for discussion at the commission's Sept. 15 meeting.

Last month, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Department of Natural Resources released interim final best practices for the state's embryonic Marcellus Shale industry that included some of the country's most restrictive environmental limits (see Shale Daily, July 11). The report recommended requiring companies to get state regulatory approval for comprehensive drilling plans, rather than on a well-by-well basis. The departments proposed that after an exploratory well is drilled, no other wells, exploratory or production, can be drilled within a radius of 2.5 miles (about 20 square miles) until a comprehensive gas development plan (CGDP) has been approved by regulators. Also included in the report were recommendations to ban drilling within 2,000 feet of private drinking water wells and within 1,000 feet of public drinking water sources. The current setback from private wells is 1,000 feet.

The latest report, which took into consideration stakeholder input, also recommends CGDP submissions and "appropriate setbacks" to protect drinking water wells. It also calls for a prohibition on well pads within watersheds of drinking water reservoirs.

Only two counties in Maryland -- Garrett and Allegany, which are in the western Panhandle -- overlie the Marcellus Shale, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates could contain as much as 2.383 Tcf of technically recoverable natural gas.

Last year, Robert Summers, secretary of the MDE, declared the state's Marcellus Shale industry had ended even before it began (see Shale Daily, Jan. 25, 2013). Only a handful of permit applications were made to the state, and all of those were withdrawn after MDE determined they were incomplete and requested additional information, Summers said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley convened MSSDIAC in 2011 to help policymakers decide whether and how to allow shale development. The 14-member commission consists of state and local government officials, industry representatives, environmentalists, attorneys and academics. In 2012 the panel recommended that the state impose both a fee and a tax on shale gas development, as well as shift more costs to industry (see Shale Daily, Jan. 12, 2012).

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