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Maryland Agencies Recommend Advance Comprehensive Drilling Plans in Marcellus

Maryland's embryonic Marcellus Shale industry would be bound by some of the country's most restrictive environmental limits if interim final best practices released Friday by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are adopted.

"We have identified in this interim final report a collection of best practices that we believe will be as protective, or more protective, than those in place currently in other states," said MDE Secretary Robert Summers and DNR Secretary Joseph Gill in a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley and state legislators.

A risk assessment will be completed to identify the level of risk that will remain if the best practices are followed, and it is possible that it and other work done by the agencies "may reveal the need for additional or different practices." Any changes would be revealed in a third and final report that is due later this year.

The report recommends requiring companies to get state regulatory approval for comprehensive drilling plans, rather than on a well-by-well basis. The departments propose 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.

"We believe that the program can be structured so that obtaining a CGDP is not unduly burdensome to the applicant, allows industry the flexibility to respond to changing conditions, and still achieves its purpose of reducing adverse and cumulative effects," the agencies said in the report.

Also included in the report are recommendations to ban drilling within 2,000 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.

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.

The report comes 18 months after Robert Summers, secretary of the MDE, declared the state's Marcellus Shale industry had ended even before it began (see Shale DailyJan. 25, 2013). Only a handful of permit applications were made to the state, and all of those were withdrawn after MDE determined they incomplete and requested additional information, Summers said.

O'Malley convened the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission 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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