Maryland's Department of Environment (MDE) and Department of Natural Resources have released a draft report describing best practices for drilling and production that should be required if horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells is permitted in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale, which is confined to its two westernmost counties.
The draft report, which was prepared in consultation with the state's Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, includes recommendations to protect public health and safety, natural resources and the environment.
MDE and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences' Appalachian Laboratory surveyed best practices from several states and other resources. "The most innovative recommendation...is to use comprehensive planning for foreseeable gas development activities in an area rather than considering each well individually," said the report.
"By considering the placement of well pads, roads, pipelines and other ancillary equipment for a large area, the efficiency of the operation could be maximized while the impacts on local communities, ecosystems, and other natural resources could be avoided or minimized."
Mandatory standards recommended in the report include:
Comments on the draft report, which are due by Aug. 9, can be submitted by e-mail to Marcellus.Advisory@maryland.gov,or by mail to Brigid E. Kenney, senior policy adviser, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21230. A final report is scheduled to be released after all comments have been considered. When the report is final, the best practices would be incorporated into new regulations to apply to shale gas development if it is permitted in Maryland.
The report is the second part of a study that Gov. Martin O'Malley called for in an executive order two years ago (see Shale Daily, June 7, 2011). Part I of the study, which was released more than 18 months ago, recommended that the state's General Assembly impose a severance tax on natural gas production and a fee on gas leases, with the resulting revenue to be dedicated "to address impacts of gas exploration and production on the environment and natural resources" and to fund studies of issues related to the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2011).
It remains unclear whether shale development will ever occur in Maryland. "The state has not yet determined whether gas production can be accomplished without unacceptable risk and nothing in this report should be interpreted to imply otherwise," according to the report. The state has issued no Marcellus Shale drilling permits. Applications for seven wells were previously submitted, but all have been withdrawn or placed in inactive status, according to MDE.
Earlier this year, MDE secretary Robert Summers said that Maryland's fledgling Marcellus Shale industry had ended even before it began (see Shale Daily, Jan. 25). Stubbornly low natural gas prices and the relatively higher value of wet gas wells in other parts of the Marcellus prompted a shift away from dry gas areas of the play, including Maryland, Summers said.
Only two counties in Maryland, Garrett and Allegany in the western Panhandle, overlie the Marcellus Shale.