Shale gas development in western Maryland suffered a serious setback last weekend, after Gov. Larry Hogan declined to veto a bill calling for a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state. The moratorium will take effect on Oct. 1.

SB 409, also known as the Protect Our Health and Communities Act, requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to adopt regulations governing fracking by Oct. 1, 2016. But those regulations would not take effect until Oct. 1, 2017, and the MDE is prohibited from issuing any permits to frack wells until then.

Only two counties in Maryland -- Garrett and Allegany 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.

Hogan, a Republican, was elected governor last November. During the gubernatorial campaign, Hogan said he supported fracking and Marcellus Shale development in the state (see Shale DailyNov. 26, 2014). Erin Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Hogan, told NGI's Shale Daily that the governor still supports fracking "if it can be done in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.

"He continues to support the safe and responsible development of energy to meet the needs of citizens, and to promote job growth in western Maryland," Montgomery said Wednesday. "He has said before that we are sitting on a wealth of clean natural gas in western Maryland, and would hope to take advantage of that if can be done in a safe way."

Supporters of shale development in Maryland could find some solace; the original version of SB 409 called for an eight-year moratorium, as did a companion bill in the House of Delegates, HB 449 (see Shale DailyMarch 26). An amendment to SB 409, introduced by state Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and adopted by the Senate, reduced the moratorium to two years.

"We would have liked the moratorium to span eight years, according to the original bill, to allot more time for public health and scientific study of the industry, but we are satisfied that no fracking will take place in Maryland before October 2017," said Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), who sponsored HB 449. "This is a significant accomplishment for the state and one that we believe all counties and localities in Maryland will benefit."

Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, countered that the bill's passage "unnecessarily draws out the regulatory process. Marylanders are already benefitting from shale development because of lower energy costs and cleaner air," he told NGI’s Shale Daily. "Unfortunately, because of this delay, western Marylanders will have to wait to take advantage of this safe and proven technology."

Last August, researchers from the University of Maryland said Marcellus development would likely have negative impacts on air quality in the region, while fracking would present a moderately high risk of public health consequences That followed a declaration in 2013 by Robert Summers, then secretary of the MDE, that the state's Marcellus Shale industry ended before it even began (see Shale DailyAug. 19, 2014Jan. 25, 2013).