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State Panel Puts Fracking Regulations on Hold in Maryland

A panel of lawmakers in Maryland has reportedly asked the state Department of the Environment (MDE) to delay implementing rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

According to reports, the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) sent a letter to the MDE last Thursday. Lawmakers on the committee said they wanted more time to study the agency's proposed rules, which were scheduled to take effect the next day.

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

The Maryland General Assembly, which meets for 90 days during its regular session, is scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 11 and adjourn on April 10. The session could also be extended until May 10.

The MDE submitted its proposed fracking regulations to the AELR last September. The proposed rules included a 2,000-foot setback for well pads from private drinking water wells and the surface water intake of public drinking water systems and springs; one year of baseline water monitoring; well integrity and pressure testing; and requirements covering air quality, emergency response, wastewater management, well plugging and bonding.

Fracking opponents are pushing for an outright ban. A two-year moratorium on the practice, which took effect after lawmakers passed SB 409 in 2015, is set to expire on Oct. 1.

"Our neighbors talk about putting their properties on the market if fracking is permitted," Friends of Deep Creek Lake, an environmental group opposed to fracking, told the AELR at a hearing last month. "Such actions would be devastating to the local economy and in the long term would not be offset by fracking-related revenues."

Supporters of oil and gas development in Maryland aren't thrilled with the MDE's proposed regulations, either.

"We are an industry that has a proven record of providing environmental and economic benefits," Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, said last month. "As written, a number of the proposed regulations are overly restrictive and would undermine our proven track record on safety proven through the development of millions of wells.

"We need policies that protect jobs and investment in Western Maryland, and these new regulations would take us in the wrong direction."

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